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The Many Moods Of Me

Art, music, living with bipolar and other unfinished projects

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.

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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.

 

 

A reflection – “Biting more than I can chew syndrome” —

A Blog About Doing Too Much

Do you have it too? This need to make a huge, exaggerated list of plans, that you need to get done as soon as possible? This need to be busy at all times, busier than anyone else? This striving for perfection that you cannot control? Well, I do. I’ve always had it. Before, I was […]

via A reflection – “Biting more than I can chew syndrome” —

The Healing Power Of Animals

I grew up with a menagerie of pets. We had a carpet snake, a wallaby, birds, chooks that slept in and stopped laying eggs, a baby possum who grew big and fat and broke into our kitchen, an army of kangaroos who bounced in and bounced out of our lives at varying times, a budgie who got stoned and slept upside down, cats, dogs, mice and a pregnant blue tongue lizard.

These babies were my friends. I was a bit wierd at school, either outgoing and popular, or huddled in an alcove with pigeons and pigeon shit for company at lunchtime.

The love I had for my animals connected me to life and gave me passion to be their voice. I formed a club with a view to saving whales. I loved these gentle ocean going giants. Why would anybody want to hunt them to near extinction? The madness of humanity weighed heavily on me from a young age.

Curious, my classmates wanted in on my little club, then quickly lost interest and joined the stationary club. I was disgusted at their perceived shallowness. It was an outrage!

Much later in life, I was in a lot of physical pain from my back condition, doped up on painkillers and tired of the dating scene. I went to my local shopping centre and came home with a puppy. She was tiny and frizzy, and I loved her to bits. She caused love to swell from my heart, which was broken and needed healing.

I don’t have kids, probably due to mental and physical factors beyond my control. Molly brought out a maternal instinct in me. Furthermore, the arrival of her brought the arrival of my first real relationship. I don’t actually know if it was her who brought love, or whether her presence triggered love in me, and a letting go of the expectation that I had to find love. I realised the looking outside of myself for one type of love was unrealistic. I was worn down. I gave up trying. I surrendered and enjoyed the love that was already there, the love of family and dog. And when I gave up trying to find love, love found me.

A succession of failed relationships may have broken my heart, but they hadn’t broken me.

Through loving Molly, I learned that love is pure, and it lies beyond the realm of hurt. I could still feel love, even when I couldn’t feel trust.

Molly has sat with me during bad physical pain. She has also seen the many moods of me, the sleepless nights of hypomania, the depressive episodes requiring medication, the crazy bipolar anger and the meltdowns when I couldn’t stop wailing because of some ridiculously out of proportion event such as a computer glitch. She has licked away my tears and put her head in my hand to comfort me. She is truly a wonder dog.

Since discovering I have bipolar 2, I have been grateful that I work with dogs. The casual hours accommodate both my mental and physical issues. Working with dogs is good for me. The dogs are real and full of love. They make me laugh, even when I’m not travelling well.

Being in the park is great for mental health. I am glad I am there and not in some results-driven office environment, supermarket, pub or shop.

Because of mental illness, I am not this outwardly material success story. Most things I start crash and burn before takeoff, remain incomplete or sit in a drawer alongside my half-written business plan, certificates, diplomas and degrees. My ventures venture nowhere, I am the sole reader of my blogs, and physical pain has limited my options.

Since my bipolar diagnosis, I have thought to myself  ‘at last I now know what’s been going on all my life’ This means I can dispense with the pep-talk mumbo-jumbo about being positive, manifesting, needing to try harder (even when it’s killing me) and wondering what’s wrong with me.

I can laugh at my grandiose notions and hypomanic it-seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time decisions, and my deciding something absolutely has to go my way, and if it doesn’t, it’s unfair, and God hates me, and is really Tony Abbott in disguise.

If I smash something in a fit of rage, I’ll regret it, but I don’t have to spend my life hiding what I am, in fear of people finding out I am crazy. I can get help to manage my rages and moods through the right medication and lifestyle adjustment.

As I write, Molly is sleeping next to me. I call her my little friend.

I am going to finish writing now, so I can give her a cuddle and tell her how much I love her.

Diagnosis and Discovery — The Many Moods Of Me

Since my recent Bipolar 2 diagnosis, I have started taking Lamictal. Due to the risk of a nasty skin rash, which is meant to be serious, I have started on a very small dose of 25mg per day, which I take in the morning. The first time I took it, I didn’t know what to […]

via Diagnosis and Discovery — The Many Moods Of Me

Diagnosis and Discovery

Since my recent Bipolar 2 diagnosis, I have started taking Lamictal. Due to the risk of a nasty skin rash, which is meant to be serious, I have started on a very small dose of 25mg per day, which I take in the morning. The first time I took it, I didn’t know what to expect. I felt a sensation like my mood was lifted up and evened out. This was a subtle sensation. 25mg is a tiny dose. I can’t wait to increase it. Living with the constant up and down moods in one day really wears on me. I looked up bipolar symptoms online and discovered this up and down thing that I get is called rapid cycling, where the mood cycles up, then down, up, then down, like a horse on a merry-go-round.

Continue reading “Diagnosis and Discovery”

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