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The Many Moods Of Me

Art, music, living with bipolar and other unfinished projects

Faith as Small as a Mustard Seed – My Addiction and Recovery Story.

There are times in my life where I have become stuck, believing I will never overcome obstacles. When people say ‘have faith’, what does that mean? I am not religious, but if this form of faith works for you, then I am glad it does.

When I first started drug and alcohol recovery in AA, Bill Wilson, it’s founder, talked about having ‘faith as small as a mustard seed’ This concept jumped out at me from the get-go. Faith for the faithless. I could handle that. Faith in bite sized pieces. Faith for people of all ages, nationalities, denominations and beliefs, religious or non-religious. I needed whatever hope I could cling to.

I came into AA and NA recovery a garden-variety wreck. I had no sense of hope whatsoever, because I was staring into the face of death. I didn’t believe anything could improve for me. I hated the world, and myself. I was psychotic, believing I was worthless, that my family were better off without me.

I stole whatever I could get my hands on.

I must have had faith though, because I stepped into my first meeting, thinking, that maybe, there was the tiniest possibility it would help me.

I went to a run-down inner-city meeting of NA for the first time in my young life. I knew I had a problem with drugs, but I couldn’t identify the alcohol problem. Whatever. Booze is a drug so powerful and destructive, it can destroy every organ in the body. It’s just a legal drug. Identifying as an alcoholic would come a bit later, when I showed up at my first detox.

Alcohol and cannabis were my daily-use drugs. Pills, coke, acid, speed and codeine were running a close second, threatening to bloom into full-blown addiction, especially coke.

I didn’t think I was enough of an addict to join recovery. I was too young. I wasn’t sleeping on a park bench in Hyde Park. I was doing postgraduate at uni, writing assignments on Adolescent Development and teaching at Vaucluse High School, totally off my face. It was about that time I overdosed.

Heroin addicts urged me to get help immediately, telling me my drug was worse than theirs because it had made me crazy.

Point taken. So I packed my bags and headed off to recovery. And the rest is history, one day at a time.

Having faith, for me, means I cannot tackle all my life problems at once. It means I stay off abusing substances one day at a time. It means seeing the beauty all around me, no matter how small.

It means taking life one step at a time.

When I am upset about the worlds problems, I have to make a decision to bring my affairs, and my reality back into today.

When Bipolar Depression hits me hard, I remind myself to see beauty in the face of a passing child, in my dog putting her little head on me, in my partner, a kind and good man, in my parents and brother, who I am close too. Addiction didn’t take away my family, and I remind myself of this.

I am hoping this coming Winter will be Depression-free, that the meds will help me.

Whatever the outcome, I will be kind to myself and keep moving in a forward direction, even if things try to send me backwards.

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Small Within it’s Raging Torrent

To begin is hard. To get my thoughts out into the world beyond my mind is healing, and yet I don’t always find the time to do this. Sometimes, many times, I find myself small, a tiny fish surrounded by, and swimming within a huge, swirling torrent of Bipolar Disorder Type 2.

Bipolar 2 has been described as ‘Soft Bipolar’ It isn’t. Swirling torrents, and constant noise in the brain are not what I would describe as a soft experience. I may not be running down the street naked, but I have come close to doing so.

24 years of recovery in AA and Al-Anon (and some time spent in NA) has given me the strength so far to not act on every impulse Bipolar throws at me. However, Bipolar is extremely powerful, and, like addiction, it is way more powerful than I am.

Bipolar. Do stupid things faster with more energy.

And I have done some crazy stupid things.

Like driving my car on the footpath.

Nearly killing myself on drugs and alcohol.

Acting out sexually with really stupid people.

Yelling out at people in the middle of the car park exit facing lines of beeping Range Rovers, Nissan Pajero’s and other cashed up army tanks wanting to go home.

“Don’t use this car park, it is stupid!”

Hurling objects through the air in a rage that takes me over, and having people call in the Crisis Team. Then when they finally arrive and ask me how I am, telling them I am fine. Pretending to be ‘normal’ Denying and refusing help when help is offered.

Being a suicide risk.

Presenting myself at Caritas in the middle of the night, but telling them I was okay, when in reality, I was at risk of doing something really, tragically stupid. Devastating for myself and my loved ones.

Telling myself I am stupid, when in reality, I am not stupid at all, I have a condition.

And many other experiences over the years, too many to mention in full.

Fortunately, the myth of ‘Soft Bipolar’ is being debunked by mental health professionals these days.

The reasons for this is because Bipolar Disorder is on a spectrum, with some people experiencing more depression symptoms on one end (blue), while others experience more mania (red) on the other end of the spectrum.

Bipolar 2 Disorder is heavy on the depression side, often getting misdiagnosed for years as Unipolar Depression before correct diagnosis is reached. This happens because people don’t tell the doc when they are feeling high, because ‘hooray! Life is great! I’m not depressed!’

People usually seek help for the nasty, unpleasant symptoms such as suicidal depression. This is what I did for years, because I was in a psychic pain that was indescribable and profound, and I wanted out of that pain. The highs were a relief from the lows.

Bipolar 2 Disorder has a high suicide rate, but I am a woman of tough Scottish blood, and I refuse to be a statistic. I take my meds every day because if I don’t, Bipolar will destroy me.

I was prescribed antidepressants, which are dangerous for people with Bipolar because they send them into orbit, into mania or hypomania.

And what goes up, must come down.

Sleepless highs, then crashes. Not being able to function.

Losing jobs before they are even found. Not being able to concentrate due to the noise inside my brain.

Which really pisses off bosses, coworkers and clients, who have no idea why it is like it is.

I have just lost all my dog walking work, in part due to the sporadic nature of the work, so, not my fault.

However, one woman witnessed me having a meltdown in the street outside her house due to me not being able to concentrate enough to keep track of the keys.

Is this why work has suddenly ceased to exist with her? I’ll never really know, however, I have a history of losing work, not being able to stick to careers or projects, melting down under pressure, and just plain old running away.

Spike Milligan called it advancing in the opposite direction.

Being too depressed to get out of bed or get out of the house. Or so hyper that it pisses people off, or just plain old angry and irritable.

Soft Bipolar has derailed many a career, dream and project for me. I don’t say this to complain. It is just a fact.

If anybody tells you mental illness is made up, fake, attention seeking or deliberate bad behaviour, they are wrong.

I give such people a body-swerve. They may not be fully aware of the facts regarding mental illness, and this is innocent on one hand, misguided on the other, and damaging to my sense of self worth.

I am simply a person doing the best I can with what I’ve got.

And I’ve done well in many areas.

I am a survivor who is flourishing in spite of a mental illness that can really take it out of me.

Do You Want to have an Interview Featured on the Bipolar Writer? — The Bipolar Writer

It has been a pleasure to write the interview feature articles that I have featured on my blog over the last few weeks. It is always hard to tell the story of another dealing with mental illness. But to have people trust in my ability as a writer and allowing to put in words their […]

via Do You Want to have an Interview Featured on the Bipolar Writer? — The Bipolar Writer

Depression is not a Lifestyle Choice

I don’t know what to write about. It feels like such a long time since I last wrote. I am feeling really affected today. I watch video blogs by a lady I find very helpful and insightful. She has Bipolar and Borderline Disorder, so she battles this thing on two fronts. I take my hat off to her. In one video, she talked about fearing depression. I can relate to that. I could be having an off day, or even an off few hours, and I automatically think it’s the big D coming on. It’s understandable we fear depression. Going through it is frightening, stressful, out of control. I never know how long it’s going to go on for. Days, hours, weeks or maybe months? I’ve had it for longer than that, and got very suicidal. Nobody seemed able to diagnose anything or put me on the right meds. It’s testimony to my inner strength and 12 Step recovery that I survived this terrible period. It went on for a year, and it terrified the crap out of me.

Depression is worse than coming off drugs. You can’t sit, you can’t stand, you can’t think. You want to be everywhere, and yet you don’t want to be anywhere. I get the agitated, distressed type of depression where I feel like I am unravelling. My brain is in a sludgy, mushy fog. I can’t get up or do anything. Everything feels dull, turgid, bleak and pointless. My body aches. All I want to do is sleep and escape. Sometimes there are tears, sometimes nothingness. Depression is a pain like no other.

Telling someone to be positive, wake up to themselves and to think of people worse off than themselves is pointless. This approach may work for a normal, blue day, but it does not work for someone experiencing Bipolar or Major Clinical Depression. The reason for this is down to chemical imbalance in the brain. Our brains simply misfire. Our brains cannot be relied upon.

Depression is not a choice. I don’t know where this highly illogical line of thinking came from, and I wish it would go away. Thinking people choose or fabricate mental illness is like thinking people choose diabetes or stroke. Such thinking is harsh and lacking in any form of caring or compassion. Such thinking promotes even more stigma and bullshit.

All we want to do is get well and stay well.

I am Steph. I Have Bipolar. I am Human.

I am Steph, and I have Bipolar. I find those words difficult to say, probably due to the stigma and misunderstanding surrounding mental illness.

It was once the same way with alcoholism and drug addiction. In 1992, I walked into my first 12 Step meeting. It was hard to say ‘My name is Steph, and I am an alcoholic/addict’ I felt embarrassed and self conscious. I kept wondering if I really was an alcoholic or an addict, even though life told me I was. I had gone through the wringer of addiction, and yet the stigma surrounding it told me otherwise.

Deny, bury, hide in shame. Do anything but face it and heal.

Stigma, misunderstanding and judgement of mental illness and addictions does nothing to address the widespread problem of it in the community.

Ignore the issues, and they don’t go away. Instead, such issues only fester and grow in the darkness of ignorance, denial, misunderstanding, embarrassment and unwillingness to face things.

I also have a chronic pain condition, but I find it easier to say I have this. People seem to understand and sympathise with having physical pain.

Telling others about my Bipolar 2 diagnosis is a different story altogether. I have mentioned it to people, then found they are awkward and unwilling to engage in conversation about it.

Maybe it’s because Bipolar Disorder is a misunderstood illness that too few people know about. They don’t know what to say or do. They don’t know where to look. They don’t know how to respond. They can’t relate to something they don’t have or can’t see.

And they say all sorts of weird shit.

Shit such as:

‘It’s all in your head’

Indeed it is. That’s why it’s called a mental illness.

‘You just need to pray, meditate and visualise/think positive thoughts, and it will go away’

Ah. If only life were that simple.

‘Everybody gets what you’ve got’

Bipolar is a serious illness that claims lives. It is nothing to do with the daily ups and downs of life that everyone gets.

‘You don’t look like you’re one of those crazy people’

Looks are deceiving. Unless I was in a severe psychosis, and/or running down the street naked, you wouldn’t know I had a mental illness just by looking at me. Many people with Bipolar are high functioning people.

‘People who say they have Bipolar are just using it as a way of avoiding responsibility’

Nobody chooses to be ill. People wouldn’t walk up to someone in a wheelchair and tell them they are avoiding responsibility. Mental illness is incapacitating.

My name is Steph.

I am not crazy. I am not fragile. I live a good life in spite of the illness and it’s struggle.

I am in a loving, committed relationship with my partner. It is possible.

I am not zonked out on meds, alcohol or street drugs, even though I take meds.

I write, make art, walk dogs and play music.

I am a woman. I have fun. I have friends.

I manage panic attacks and insomnia right now. The noise in my head is constant, with small, rare breaks in between.

This year, I had depression and suicidal thoughts for no other reason than my brain misfires.

I am a good person who cares.

I am Steph. I have Bipolar Type 2. It is a part of me. It is not all of me.

I am a human being.

Bipolar – Seeing Life Through a GlassDifferently

Throughout my life, I always felt different, and I never knew why. Growing up, I felt this lingering and persistent feeling like I didn’t belong or fit in anywhere. I was torn between wanting and not wanting to belong. It felt confusing.

I have always taken solace in my art, music and writing. It seemed to be the one place where I could shine, where I could say a big “stuff you” to all who either ridiculed or rejected me.

Being outrageous was my defence. That was when I wasn’t retreating into my shell of vulnerability and fear. Fear of what? I wasn’t really sure.

In spite of all this, there were times when I was the life of the party with the other kids. I had this little gang of girls in primary school who I had fun with, and another kid, a boy, who I had a close, but tumultuous friendship with. He was like me in many ways.

My friendships were like my Bipolar. Up and down. There one minute, gone the next.

I could never accept myself purely as I was, and I think that is sad.

Back then, I didn’t know I had Bipolar. The teachers had no clue either. They spoke to my Mum about wanting to send me to a child psychiatrist or psychologist, I’m not sure which one. They thought I had Autism because I had this habit of rocking back and forth. At times, I was behavioural. I was creative. One teacher I loved thought I was ahead of my time.

I was known for my love of animals. I felt for them, cared for them, brought them home.

It was the late 70’s and early 80’s. Nobody knew then what they know today about mental health issues.

I didn’t recognise the many gifts I possessed, nor did I realise I needed to be able to do things in a way that worked for me. In those days, every kid was expected to conform to a cookie-cutter standard way of thinking, doing, being and believing. None of it was me. I rebelled in frustration.

I viewed my world through a glass differently.

I still view my world through a glass differently.

I hear music and noise constantly in my head. I move my hands and tap my feet in time to some tune only I can hear and recognise. I hear radio chatter. It never stops. I live with it on a daily basis, never knowing anything different.

When depressed, everything moves in slow motion. I feel like I am swimming through treacle. It is painful and awful, distressing. I don’t function. I am unwell.

I live life through the kaleidoscopic lens of Bipolar. And today, I realise that is perfectly okay.

I don’t have to beat myself up for not being able to function in many employment situations. I walk dogs for a living, which supplements my Disability Pension. It is my way of doing something for myself, within my capacity. I work limited hours. Working too many hours causes me to unravel and break down.

I am not lazy. I have a mental illness. I didn’t choose it. It chose me. While at times, it is a struggle to live with Bipolar, I know I am an okay person who does the best she can in every area of my life.

There are some days when I hate my Bipolar. That’s just how it is for me. I want to kick it’s arse, but instead, it kicks my arse, and is way too powerful for me.

So I ride it out, and try to be good to myself when I am being kicked around by Bipolar.

I no longer act out in self-destructive and dangerous ways. (Drug and alcohol abuse) This has got to put me ahead of my game.

I write about my experiences. In doing so, I share my story with others. This is my way of accepting me for me. I no longer hide in shame. Writing helps me to overcome the stigma surrounding mental illness.

I hope my writing helps others. Maybe someone will relate.

Because we are all beautiful as we are, illness or no illness.

We are brave and strong. We have learnt many skills in order to cope and thrive in spite of having mental illness.

Since being diagnosed with Bipolar 2, I have found support from others who are in the same boat as me.

It’s nice to know there is a local and an international community of people who also see life through a glass differently.

My Moods do not Define me.

My moods are a roller coaster. I see life through the lens of constant up and down. Not many people know this about me, because I have a natural life force and an outgoing personality.

Mental illness is so often a hidden thing. Its sufferers are often adept at hiding its symptoms. The image you have of mental illness often comes from the movies. The movies have a habit of presenting mental illness in its extreme form. But not all of us are like that.

Continue reading “My Moods do not Define me.”

Driving Round The Bends – Bipolar Restlessness. My Experience.

I wrote a song about the downward spiral of a dysfunctional relationship I once had. I called the song “Driving Round the Bends” All we seemed to do was drive to my dancing gigs (the only fun part) and fight. I could also use Driving Round the Bends as a metaphor for my days of restlessness and agitation. I always thought these were depression days. Now I’m not so sure. Having read about the experiences of others, I am now quite sure the agitation was my Bipolar having a field day. Depressed or agitated. Or both. It doesn’t really matter. Does anyone relate? Is anybody out there? My days of Bipolar agitation are characterised by a feeling of wanting to be everywhere and yet not wanting to be anywhere. And so I jump in my car and head out of my flat. I drive to somewhere. I don’t know where I want to go. I can’t make up my mind. I should be able to make up my mind. I feel guilty I can’t make a decision, as though I have failed for not being able to get my shit together enough to have a normal day like everyone else. I feel distress. I feel uncomfortable, like sandpaper is rubbing at my brain, at my insides. I feel fog, as though a pane of glass is curved around me, separating myself from the world. Making conversation is an effort, but I attempt it. I look presentable to the world around me. Nobody knows I have a fractured mind right now. Do I go to the park or the coffee shop first? It seems to take all day to get there even if it is just an hour or two that has passed. I drive myself. I drive myself around the bend.

In the park, I attempt conversation with an old man. Even if successful, my conversation feels like rubber. My words and sentences don’t seem to form. I try to explain something and it does not come out clearly. My dog is friendly. She only barks because she wants more pats. She’s a girl. She’ll roll over and show you her belly. On a normal day, these words flow. On a day like this one, the words seem to come out in the wrong, jumbled order. At least in my mind, they do.

Agitation. Irritation. With everything.

A popular song plays on a radio in the chemist. It grates in my head. I’m grouchy and impatient. I am in a hurry to go. Somewhere. Nowhere. Everywhere. An invisible force drives me on, takes me over. It is my illness driving me.

I drink coffee. Being in the coffee shop seems to help for a brief amount of time. I try to write about my agitation. Writing helps.

The monster in my head takes over, squashing everything I usually like to do. I am not productive.

The sound of visitors in the other units causes Molly to bark. I scream out in a rage and then get embarrassed.

My key gets stuck and I have a meltdown. Rage and tears.

I get a new interest. Playing bass. It helps, but I go from one interest to another, my mind sparking with new ideas that never get finished. Or get finished after a very long time if I am travelling okay in my mind.

The downward spiral takes all interest away. Nothing gets done during these times.

But I am now on new drugs, and I feel even, like I’ve never felt before. I still get some breakthrough symptoms. Today I had anxiety.

But I went for a swim with my Mum and today was a beautiful day.

Misdiagnosis And Other Misadventures

I’m not sure what to write about. Often I have this dilemma when I try to write. Depression can block me. Sometimes being normal can block me. Often there are no real reasons for writer’s block. It just happens. It happens to the best of people. Working on a great many projects and using a great many mediums is a symptom of bipolar. My place is filled with unfinished projects. During the sparkling phase of inspiration, many ideas flow, often all at once, and doggedly I try to do them all at once.

Bipolar 2 often hides itself from the public. It is hard to diagnose because it can be confused with other conditions such as unipolar depression, ADHD and borderline personality disorder. For years I have been treated for unipolar depression. I was also misdiagnosed with ADHD many years ago, but I don’t relate to all of its symptoms.

It has taken many years to get diagnosed with bipolar 2 because bipolar 2 was not known when I first presented to a psychiatrist two decades ago. I didn’t relate to the manic highs of bipolar 1. I didn’t know that bipolar disorder exists on a spectrum, with depression on one end and mania on the other. I have always been able to identify the symptoms of depression a lot easier than the symptoms of mania or hypomania, simply because depression is so bloody awful to live with. On this basis, and desperate for help, I talked only of these symptoms and got treated only for these. Many people are in the same position as me. They get misdiagnosed because they only present for depression. Mania and hypomania can feel great, so hey, something must be going right! Why seek help when you’re happy?

Last year my chronic pain flared up badly and I was physically incapacitated. Nonetheless, I did make sure I got out and about where I could. The really strange thing was, I was not going through any depression whatsoever. I had just changed my antidepressant medication from Endep, which was putting on weight, to Cymbalta. I went off the Endep for a few weeks and the pain hit me like a sledgehammer. If it were not for the pain, I would have attempted to come off the Endep altogether because I thought I was so well, and had left mental illness behind me for good.

Where I should have been depressed because I was in so much pain, I wasn’t. Quite the opposite.

I felt a strange, enlivened shroud of peace all around and within me. This peace seemed to emanate from my head and I felt like I was the sanest and most enlightened human being on the planet, all because I was dealing with my pain so well. It wasn’t like I shouted from the rooftops ‘Hey everybody, I’m SANE!’ I just had this silent feeling of ‘isn’t it great to be sane’  I had a glittering, effervescent feeling inside my head like champagne bubbles.

I took on many creative projects and committed myself to saving the world. I thought I could do my part, and I took on more projects than I had time for. I felt in touch with nature. I said yes to everything. There were times when my thoughts raced and times when I would do my projects at one o’clock in the morning. I would go and do my dog walking work the next day having had only five or six hours sleep. I did not get good sleep. I still don’t get good sleep but it’s improving since I’ve been taking Lamictal.

I often felt high, elated, my best ever. This was in spite of feeling chronic physical pain. I felt that I was being presided over and looked after by a kind and loving universe. I was carefree in myself.

I was impatient, easily irritated and I raged at the motorist who dared to honk me in traffic or cut in front of me without warning. I had urges to smash their windows with the steering wheel lock and run coins down the side of their vehicle, particularly if it was a four-wheel-drive. I held back on these angry outbursts, but only because I am in therapy and on antidepressants.

I had no idea this was not what normal people get (whatever normal is)

Whatever I experience seems to be the same as the average person, only it’s either ramped up or down a few notches. In other words, I am either functioning a few notches above or below the normal mood.

And my moods drive me crazy, rule my life and make my life unmanageable in so many ways. Where would I begin to describe these ways?

Insomnia drives me crazy. My racing thoughts feel like they are going around and around like clothes in a spin dryer. I have images flash in and out of my mind so quickly I can’t recognize them. My thoughts come with a running commentary that goes on and on inside my head, the voices sounding loudly in my ear. Sometimes I get my voice on its own telling me ‘you can do this’ and ‘oh, there’s this’ and ‘what about this?’ I get its comments on all kinds of memories, dreams and reflections, concepts and philosophies. Sometimes I get what sounds like a whole room full of people talking. I don’t hear voices in the same way a delusional person would. I just hear my own racing thoughts. I often feel elated at night and I talk in an animated way when everybody else is ready for bed.

All this would be okay if I were a robot and I didn’t require sleep to function, or if I knew I would not crash into depression afterwards.

I have read that bipolar 2 sufferers often experience more depression than mania. Our mania might not hospitalize us, but our depression sure can.

This year, unlike last, has been a year of mental illness for me. This has caused me to seek help and get properly diagnosed with bipolar 2. I now do not belive mental illness is behind me, but is something I will always have to manage.

I am impatient for the Lamictal to start working on me instantly, lifting out my horrible moods for good. This is probably not realistic, as meds take time to work and I am not yet on the full-strength dose.

At least I don’t abuse drugs and alcahol like I did many years ago.

Since taking the new meds, things have improved for me and I have gained a lot of insight.

 

 

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