Category Archives: Diagnosis

Living with Bipolar

“Bipolar is just one part of me.” “You are brave and courageous.” “You are feeling good! You can get to this place again.” These are the post-its I see several times a day as I take medication for many things, including bipolar disorder. I’ve been thinking for a few days what it means to live with bipolar disorder, and these three post-its are part of the deal of living with bipolar.

  1. I am many things – compassionate, smart, funny, passionate, nerdy – and bipolar. And though bipolar colors ALL of my existence, it is just one part of me. It is easy for me to say “I am bipolar” instead of the more socially acceptable “I have bipolar.” What my mood and thoughts are doing, and the routines I use to contain them, shapes my whole life. I cannot escape my bipolar brain. When I’m feeling well, like right now I can see how there are parts of me that would be there even if I didn’t have bipolar, like a snarky sense of humor or being passionate about social justice.
  2. I have to be persistent, routinized, and brave Every.Single.Day. Each day I wake up to thoughts that second-guess my mental well-being and my ability to even face a day without causing harm to myself. Courageously I choose to get up and start the routine that will get the day off to a better start. Courageously I take my meds, brush my teeth, drink my coffee and check my calendar. Eventually I can face the day, if it’s a good day. Some days I can only think of suicide and can only feel anxiety and fear. On those days I have still made the choice every minute to keep on living. “Nevertheless, she persisted,” applies not only to U.S. Senators who keep talking despite pressure to shut up and sit down, but also to my choosing life day after day, moment after fearful moment of thoughts of death that won’t stop. I am brave and courageous.
  3. I am living in a euthymic phase right now – a good, stable, middle point of my moods. And I can get there again if/when I become depressed or manic again. I need the reminder both that bipolar is cyclical and that I am in a good phase. It’s time to take a look around! Smell the flowers and trees and other pollens I am violently allergic to. Play with my cat. Sip coffee. Really discover what I am capable of when I am feeling well! It’s time to enjoy this time I have, and trust that it will come again.

What are some insights you have uncovered about living with bipolar, either from your own life, or from watching me live mine?

Not Just Grieving or Angry

I still have near constant suicidal thoughts as discussed in my last post. I’ve researched some possibilities to carry it out, and come to the same conclusion that my primary method is the best for me, AND I cannot do it because several methods are hidden from me by my family.

So there. I’m safe. Just miserable and wanting to end the misery. And the best way to end the misery seems to be to follow the thoughts’ plan.

My thoughts seem to say “I’m not fleeting. I’m persistent. Do it. Here’s a scenario.” Sometimes this repeats ad nauseum. Sometimes I can look with the self and notice that they are thoughts, and see that they are not coming from the Self. But even when I can create distance in this way, I do not know from whence the thoughts cometh. Arguably, from bipolar. The diseased part of the brain. Yet that is part of me. I can’t yet see bipolar as Other-Than-Me, when it comes from MY brain. How can I even distinguish diseased-brain from me-brain? My cognitive abilities are so hampered, even when my mood is in the middle, neither depressed nor manic. So much of ME is taken up by diseased-brain with all the cognitive jumble and lack of function I live with. It’s amazing I can even drive.

My thoughts also seem to say, “I hate this limping life. This is not the life we signed up for. I expected some good things, such as lasting relationships, an interesting career, and a developing/ed intellectual self. What is this hobbling along day-by-day, hour-by-shuffling-hour business?”

I’m grieving – Still! – the life I had and thought would continue. But it’s more than grief. I’m angry at being robbed of this life, but it’s more than anger. I’ve sat with these emotions and phases Multiple Times. Sometimes, like a few posts ago when I was signing up for college classes, I seem to have accepted, or at least embraced this limping, hobbling life bipolar has left for me, and made some good fortune happen.

When all is said and done, and I’m alone with my bipolar and suicidal thoughts, I Have Not Accepted that this is my life. I think that’s one reason why I want to end it. What else do you see in this mess? Help me.

Suicidal Ideation

A clawing, gnawing at the inside of my breastbone. Tears behind my eyes, but not released. Anxiety creases in the forehead. A fluttering heartbeat to my left, blankness and emptiness of the soul to the right. I see how I will do it in my head, over and over and over.

I’m noticing everything in this moment. This is what I experience in my body Every.Bloody.Time I have suicidal ideation. Which is minimally every couple hours, and right now intensely every other minute. It interrupts reading, watching tv, even doing algebra this afternoon, and while in conversations.

I watched youtube videos of Steven Hays giving ted talks about psychological flexibility and putting the mental brakes on thoughts. He is one of the founders of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acceptance_and_commitment_therapy) which is the therapy that finally worked for me. I’ve been practicing it for years now. The reminders in the videos helped me a bit. Hours later I’m still using tips.

I tried something, and stopped because it hurt more than planned. I’m not going to do anything, yet I’m plagued by the sensations and thoughts I described. It’s miserable and horrible.

I don’t want to go to the hospital, nor do I think it would help. My mom, though not currently in a position to help, has hidden things I could use to hurt myself. This is as safe an environment as it could be, I guess.

I don’t think more ECT would help, though my mood feels like it dipped, and I find it easy to fall into old thought patterns besides the suicidal ideation. I had a long and emotional Friday and Saturday getting certified as a NAMI support group facilitator, something I’ve wanted to do for years! But it wore me out mentally and emotionally. Which could lead to a natural mood dip, which is why I think ECT would be overkill since the depression should lift after more rest (my hunch).

Several doctors and several therapists have come to independent ideas that I just have suicidal ideations as obsessive thoughts (OCD) and there isn’t anything that will stop them. If I didn’t have the anxiety of whether my life was threatened or the bodily sensations I described, it would be a little easier. How do I live with this terrible debate and these sensations with no way to rid myself of them, to fight them, to welcome or accept them?

College – Reprised

I’ve had an exciting week becoming a college student again. Now, I already have a bachelor’s degree, 2 master’s degrees plus a diploma showing an academic concentration. So I really don’t need any more education, now do I? But I really want to do a Ph.D in sociology. Not sure of the specific topic yet, but I do know it will be sociology. Whether I teach or have a job, I want the degree for me. And it would be fun to be called Doctor!

I still have bipolar brain though: poor memory, concentration, focus and judgement. And this is even in my stable mood! It gets worse when I’m in a mood state. So I don’t even know if I can take a class, understand it, and incorporate the learning into a paper or test. I forget that I saw a movie a couple weeks after I see it, forget remembering Oscar movies I saw a year ago!

And reading! Reading is challenging. On the one hand, I’m reading more books: I surpassed my Goodreads app challenge of 30 books last year. But unless I scroll through the list of books, I can only remember one, maybe two, books. When I look at the list I can describe plots or main points of maybe only a third of the books. As I’m reading I often forget what previous chapters contained.

So, how am I supposed to do graduate school reading and writing??? Well, I start small. Let’s see if I can even take and pass a class, any class. I excitedly looked through the course catalog of the community college near me, noticing what piqued my interest. True to my nerd-ling beginnings, the lab sciences biology and chemistry (not physics, sorry Big Bang Theory enthusiasts) stood out. I had been a biochemistry major when I started my Bachelor’s degree 26-ish years ago. Another subject caught my manic attention and I abandoned my first love and changed my major. I did, however, promise myself I would go back and take those science classes later in life.

And here I am! I’m a college student again, taking those bio and chem classes I wanted to return to, just doing it one class at a time to be easy on my brain. I want to take so many science classes that I could earn an Associates of Science, if I take some additional General Education classes. The advisor I spoke to said it might be easier (i.e., not duplicate classes I already took even though they are 26+ years old) to earn an Associates of Arts even though I want to do lab sciences. But no decisions on that yet. I can decide later if I want to apply my classes to a degree. Like I need another one. 😄

Back to becoming a college student… This week I learned I was accepted to begin in the summer session, met with an academic advisor, registered for a class (no science classes were available, darnit, nor were any Gen Ed classes available in the classroom, only online), cleared my account in the business office, filled out the dreaded FAFSA, got my ID card, met with the Office of Disability Services, and finished getting school supplies and NCTC swag.

About that last meeting… The staff told me that for the mood disorder I am eligible for double the amount of time for tests, an alternative testing location (The Testing Center), help with taking notes, the use of a recording device in class, and a reserved spot wherever I need in the classroom. Those may all be helpful – especially since I’m probably not as good at taking notes anymore – but what I really might need is excused absences and late homework if my mood flips out again and I’m not functioning well anymore. Apparently my doctor or therapist would have to state that I will miss class or be late with homework, not just keep it as possible. So accommodations are possible. Just need the documentation.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to ask for accommodation. Would I end up being known among the faculty for my disability only, the bipolar and anxiety student, instead of the curious and dedicated student who returned to take science classes? Then I remembered you, my dear readers, and that I am open and vulnerable about my bipolar experiences on the internet, for heaven’s sake. Maybe I can be the bipolar and anxiety student who succeeded, or at least tried!

No ECT!!!

I showed up for my scheduled ECT this morning. And in the pre-screen I talked about how well I’m doing, back to baseline on everything. Somehow the conversation twisted and the PA asked if I even wanted a treatment today. Um, NO!

I waited an agonizing 5+ minutes while she talked with the treating psychiatrist. They agreed I was doing well enough not to have a treatment! I’m to call in a week for a phone screen to see if I’m still doing well or if I need a treatment. If I’m doing fine, they will discharge me and I can get the port out of my chest (used to access a vein easily since IV’s are hard to get on me).

Hooray! I celebrated my unexpected free day and good prognosis with a ginormous mocha from the coffee shop in the hospital lobby.

I also saw my regular psychiatrist today to ask about the fine tremors I have developed in my hands. But, I got to gloat about how well I was feeling. And I was shocked to be doing so well that he wanted to see me next In Three Months(!).

Even as I’m feeling well, and stable, and Good, I’m worried about the bottom falling out and plunging into suicidal depression for the millionth time. My doctor encouraged me not to worry about what might happen, and even to make a video or add to my mirror post-its that Yes, I was doing well. Something to help remember if (when?) things get bad, that I had been healthy and it would happen again.

Why do I expect suicidal depression to come again? Just because it has been a companion I could count on? And I got as good as one could get at dealing with it healthily?

How about I have no freaking clue how to be in a good space? I’m worried that the increased energy I feel is mania, and that the only way I have to express how good I’m feeling is to talk too much or to spend money. Both of those are things I do when I’m manic, yet I’m not manic.

I just don’t know how to be healthy! What are behaviors You have when You are healthy?

New Hospital…and ECT Again

I have been staring into the abyss for two weeks. I have been very close to suicide, even in the hospital, where I am right now. I didn’t get to take my Chicago vacation because I was in a New And Good hospital. Excellent doctors and staff, comfy bed, decent food.

And still I struggle with life and death. It is deeply agonizing. Good doctors have taken me off three of my meds and added one. Med changes are miserable but usually necessary. One thing to discern is whether my suicidal visions are from depression or OCD, reopening an old argument. I want the death, but the visions come unbidden. So the argument remains.

With only a little persuasion, I have agreed to a full course of ECT – 12-20 sessions, three days a week. Yes, I have had bad experiences such as long-term memory loss and cognitive loss. I’m at the end of meds I can I can try. I’ve been told I’ve taken enough that I have a 5-10 percent chance of Any working at this point. I never did a full series of ECT before so I don’t know if it will work. I’m going risk further memory and cognitive issues because sometimes I want to live.

I need your love and support. I’m very alone at the edge of the abyss.

Bipolar Me

I wrote about whether decisions were made by me, or by bipolar, a few days ago here. I was conflicted about my own decision-making over the years, especially by those decisions I now know to be poor ones. Today I came to new insight with the help of a wise one. I decided to let myself off the hook and let decisions made by bipolar moods stand as they are. If I was manic, I was manic, and the decision is from bipolar. There is a “bipolar me” that has been working in the background basically my whole life. As my mood fluctuated – regularly – I made decisions and experienced life with this persona. Bipolar me did crazy things and poor things, and sometimes there was good that came out of it. And sometimes not. But there is a bipolar me that is in ascendancy most of the time. There is no “me” and “bipolar.” There is bipolar me.

I’m just getting to understand a little bit about this bipolar me. She, if there is a gender, tries to make decisions with her gut, which doesn’t work most of the time. Though it is the seat of compassion and the infamous “gut instinct” that people tout, I can’t trust it. It has brought me heartache and mistakes, and it has led bipolar me to get close to suicide, oh, at least a few dozen times. My brain I can’t trust as it is sick with broken neurotransmitters and lies to me daily, often through gut instinct. But my chest, where my heart and lungs lie, has brought me out of danger with reason and with a survival instinct. It reminds me that all bodies and consciousnesses strive to stay alive. I can trust that. I know that my heart and lungs will work until my dying breath – hopefully later rather than sooner (when I’m thinking from my chest and not from my gut, which says the opposite at least once a day).

My goal is to understand bipolar me as a sentient being. What does it mean that I am bipolar All.The.Time. and have been for decades? What does that mean for making decisions into the future, i.e., can my gut and brain be retaught or retrusted when stability is finally reached?

So cheers to bipolar me! Now I have an answer to who has been responsible for my life. It’s bipolar me. And sometimes the mood has pushed me into unhealthy decisions, and sometimes I’ve thought with my chest and made better ones. But I’ve been bipolar the whole time, and that’s who I am.

A Sick Brain?

A lot is going on in my head right now. Regret over decisions made, decisions I’m (wrongly?) chalking up to bipolar moods, calling it a sick brain that has led me to where I am today. All of this was refuted, well, by my therapist today.

Cultivating curiosity in my past because of prompts from a book has led me to judgment rather than increased curiosity or empathy, or even self-compassion. It’s as though all I can see is young me making decisions that may have been influenced by bipolar or just by youth. Can’t tell. I see a little bit older me trying out discernment but now questioning the decisions I made based on careful deliberations and consultation, and instead see only bipolar. I see current me managing bipolar as my whole life.

Not a lot of optimism here, folks.

I think more slowly and make fewer connections than I used to. I don’t think my intuition is working anymore, since diagnosis. I can’t trust what my brain is doing, throwing out mood states and lies one day, and then out of nowhere I get a month of stability for the first time EVER, only to have it ripped away by med changes again. I’m told that having trouble thinking can partly be a side effect of meds. OK. It can partly be aging. Not that I’m old, just entering middle age actually. I guess I’m ok with that? I haven’t heard that as a “symptom” of aging at this stage. I definitely have had trouble thinking ever since a hysterectomy led to menopause brain, but nothing as drastic as after falling precipitously from the manic episode into a suicidal depression that led to a bipolar diagnosis.

Nothing leads to saying I have a sick brain. But isn’t that what bipolar disorder is? Neurons are firing when they shouldn’t or not firing when they should, both of which affect mood states and functioning – and thinking. Medically I have a sick brain, and I’ve had one for 20+ years. My mood states have fluctuated regularly. How can I trust that _I_ made the decisions all through my life, and not bipolar mood state me? And if it was bipolar me, do I hold myself accountable for those decisions, or discount them as bipolar brain?

None of this was adequately answered for me today. My therapist, I think, tried to get me to understand that I am not a bipolar brain, though we joked at the beginning that you can think you’re in control and then – boom! – your brain says it is. So which is it? Is it an existential _I_ making the decisions, or a medically sick brain decidedly influencing the decisions?

We didn’t get as far as answering that question. He did encourage me to be curious about the good that came out of the decisions and not just question and judge the decisions. I still can’t be sure it wasn’t a sick brain that made them.

Bipolar Is Only One Part of Me

I have to keep telling myself that. Over and over. I even have a post-it on the bathroom mirror to remind me.

So much of the time I feel overwhelmed by the bipolar. The moods. The mood changes. Taking meds now only three times a day. Managing schedules and routines to anchor my life to manage the bipolar.

It’s easy to be defined by mental illness. It takes everything you have to fight the lies it tries to tell you, such as death is preferable. It takes all your energy to _manage_ the illness.

All of this combined makes me think I am my bipolar. It has taken over my life, even to moving to another state to live with family for more support. My thoughts are always clouded by bipolar. It’s a brain disease. I feel like Matchbox 20’s hits “Unwell” and “Bent.”

In NAMI circles, and other mental health advocacy circles, we say I Have bipolar, not I am bipolar. There are arguments about this because of how much of your life is affected by a brain disease.

But if I listen to advocates, I have to remember that I have values and character and personality traits, even though bipolar colors how I can use them and how I live in the world.

So bipolar is just one part of me. I have bipolar. I have to tell myself this over and over each day.

My Story – A Summary

Hi! I’m Deb, and I blog at http://SuddenlyBipolar.com

I am an ordained Presbyterian minister. I like to think of myself as a Mental Health Advocate as my current calling, since I can’t pastor a church anymore because of how my Bipolar Type 1 manifests. I also have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which just exacerbates the Bipolar.

I’m a lover of movies, books, politics and sociology. I’d like to do a PhD in Sociology if my brain will let me. It’s hard to read, so we’ll see what’s in store for me in the next few years.

I recently moved back in with family to get extra support. Even with a strong support system, it wasn’t enough to keep me from being lonely where my thoughts and feelings would take over to make me suicidal and bouncing in and out of the hospital over 30 times in the last 7 years.

I was diagnosed in September 2010 after falling from a manic high (August being a common time for mania for me) into a suicidal depression, my first and definitely not my last. Among my therapist, psychiatrist and me, we figured out I had my first depressive episode at 13 when I had major back surgery for scoliosis. Manic delusions may have started as early as 9, however. I had hallucinations in 2 psychotic episodes my first year in college at age 17, a common time for bipolar to raise its ugly head.

I spent my young and middle adult years in primarily hypomania, some mania and fewer depressions. I had a vibrant spirituality that people thought was a gift, but was really mania. Oh, well.

As I said, I was diagnosed in 2010, a year into my first solo pastorate after years as an associate pastor or youth director. I loved and was good at my job. It’s been a huge loss and sore spot that I can’t pastor anymore. Over the next 7 years I had amazing care from my psychiatrists and therapists, and a strong support system. But I still bounced in and out of a psychiatric hospital over 30 times, for as few as 3 days, and as much as 2 months. I saw the darkest days, despite love and support. I’m still looking for the right medication cocktail after Years of trying. Every time I went into the hospital we tried something new or tweaked something. And my psychiatrist outside did too, though she was more conservative.

Finally, I spent 3 months at my family’s home relearning how to care for myself (cooking, cleaning, exercise) and getting concentrated support and love. Eventually, together, we concluded that I should move to Texas from Chicago-land to continue support, be around people, and at least temporarily live in community. I hope to live a mile away soon and still get the benefit of daily support but independent living again.

I’ve been with my family for two months now and we are slowly making our way into community. I don’t feel settled. I miss my old support system. I sobbed leaving my main psychiatrist. I’ve been in a day program and inpatient for a few days. But I’m looking forward now to beginning a new life with meaningful activities.

Early in my diagnosed life, I accepted the bipolar as something I would have to manage for the rest of my life. The bipolar and anxiety are just a part of me, though sometimes taking care of them seems to overwhelm me. I remind myself they are just a part of me. I have routines and schedules. I advocate for myself with providers, and I talk with my support system regularly, sometimes (ok, most of the time) daily. I use coping skills like Radical Acceptance, Mindfulness, Thought Defusion, and Committed Action toward My Values (from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy). I also use Dialectical Behavioral Therapy skills such as Mindfulness, Emotion Regulation, and Distress Tolerance. I also volunteer at various places, though it’s hard and I have a hard time holding even one for longer than a couple months. Maybe I haven’t found the right place for my passion yet.

I am open about my struggles and triumphs on social media. I educate about and offer resources on bipolar on social media (such as my page on Facebook, Suddenly Bipolar). Advocating for others seems as important as advocating for myself. My blog is one way I do that by sharing my thoughts, feelings and journey. People tell me that reading about these things is helpful, and I’m glad. But really it’s my journal. 🙂

I hope to meet you in the blogosphere or on Facebook or Twitter. Together we can end the stigma and support one another. Find your voice!

Cross posted on MyLoudBipolarWhispers.com as part of the “There’s Glory in Sharing Your Story” campaign.