Don’t ever forget.

It’s been my goal for some time now to have a normal, symptom free life.  There have been so many struggles over the years; so many problems; so much damage and hurt.  I really get tired of it all and just want to live without all of the angst.  And I think for the most part, I have.  I’ve been on the same medication for almost two years now and it seems to be working.  Focusing on my therapy has taken me a long way with learning how to deal with this disease.  For maybe the first time in my life I go through the days without even thinking about being bipolar.  Let me tell you…it’s a great thing.

Or is it?

I think one of the reasons I’ve been making so many improvements is because I’ve stayed aware of my moods.  As I feel them change I can react before they get out of control.  The therapy has helped tremendously with this.  I’m able to talk through issues that I’ve learned can be triggers for an episode.  In our discussions about things that I seem inconsequential I sometimes realize that they are having more of an impact how I feel than I realize.  My therapist knows me all too well.  She can see changes and mood shifts way before I can, and lead our conversations into my own awareness.  My life may have smoothed out, but it doesn’t mean I can ignore the fact that I’m bipolar.  There are improvements, but there is no cure.

And frankly, it scares the hell out of me.

One of the things I tell myself is when I’m having a bad day, the weather is not good or my job is really stressful is; if you don’t have a bad day, how can you appreciate the good ones?  If everything is the same every day, day in and day out, how do you know if it’s good or bad?  I love the beach, and no other place I’ve ever been makes me any happier.  The waves hitting the shore are very calming for me.  The Sunlight hitting the water is beautiful; sparkling more than any diamond.  I especially love the beach at night.  It’s almost a primal feeling for me.  It’s the best place on earth for me.

But what if I had never been there?

Without actually being there I would have no idea what it brings to me.  I could read about it, or see photos, even hear about other’s experiences.  But until walking through the sand and hearing the waves it’s just an imagination.  I thank God that I live close enough that it’s only a short drive away.

But the converse is true too.

It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all; right? Maybe that applies to some situations, but not to this one.  Not for me.  Having lived so much of my life dealing with the horrors of this illness, now that I’m not consumed by it the idea of having a new episode is absolutely terrifying.   I know what it’s like to live symptom free.  And now that I’ve had it, I don’t want to ever lose it again.

So many things have changed as I’ve gotten more stable.  I’ve gone from being a contractor to being hired as a full time regular employee.  I have health benefits!  The last three years I was unable to get insurance, and have not kept up with basic health care.  With the job however, not only do I have coverage, it’s very good.  You can believe I’m taking full advantage of it now; having all the tests and exams I can to make sure there are no unforeseen problems.  I do my job calmly and professionally.  It’s extremely stressful, and in the past I’ve overreacted and created unnecessary problems for myself.  Now however I deal with the ups and downs of work appropriately and without drama.  I have a great house, and it stays clean and organized all the time.  I can pay my bills, and do; even on time.  Every day is positive, even when I’m not having the good ones.

I’m even getting involved in a serious relationship.  And that’s something I never believed I’d ever have again.

Yes, life is good.  I’ve really enjoyed being free from the devastation to myself and others.

But…what if that changes?  There’s no guarantee that the medications will remain effective indefinitely.  Body chemistry changes, tolerances develop and suddenly what has been working for years doesn’t make enough difference.  Or maybe it’s not so sudden after all.  It’s the slow subtle change that can get you in trouble.  Moods can shift just a wee bit every day, and you don’t even realize that their changing.  And even if you do notice that you’re moving too fast, or sinking down, it’s easy to rationalize and find excuses to explain it.  It’s okay to have a bad day, isn’t it?  Or my work can be frantic; it makes sense that I’m pouring more energy into each day.  Before you know it, you can be out of control yet again.

Now that I’ve experienced the good life I have come to expect it.  I feel healthy, and my actions and thoughts reflect it.  I don’t do crazy things, or sit in dark rooms brooding and feeling miserable.  I don’t explode in anger over anything; even if it should make me mad.  Bad days don’t send me spiraling down.  It’s not that I’m apathetic or numb either.  I react appropriately to all life throws at me; good and bad.

I fear that might be changing however.

Lately I’ve been fighting more and more to keep positive and upbeat.  My energy level has definitely decreased.  I am keeping up at work, but not as well as I have been.  Weekends are a total loss.  I get done what absolutely has to be done, and very little else.  Projects that I have started remain unfinished.  I spend way more time on the couch than I care to admit.  I can tell myself that I’m just bored, that life has just become mundane and repetitive.  I go to work, I see my girlfriend, I go to sleep.  And tomorrow I get back up and do it all over again.  That’s enough to drain energy and motivation, isn’t it?  Being completely honest with myself however I have to admit that it’s becoming a problem.

But I won’t go back there again.  I won’t; I can’t.

I’ve heard it said that most suicides occur not during a depression, but as one is developing.  No, I am not suicidal, not even close.  But I understand how it could happen.  I don’t want to give up what I have.  I know just how horrible and devastating depression can be; been there, done that.  And that knowledge, the realization that it could be happening again just feeds the feeling of depression.

What the hell am I going to do?  There’s just so much at stake here.

I’ll tell you what I’m going to do; I’m going to stop this before it takes over.  The medication that I’ve been on so long may need a little adjusting.  I’m actually prescribed for twice the dose that I’m taking, so going up to 75% isn’t unreasonable.  I can do that on my own, without a trip to the doctor.  Well, not without discussion with my therapist; I trust her judgment completely.  She can let me know if it’s the right approach. As luck would have it, I happen to have an appointment with her this afternoon.

Wait.  It’s not luck.

I have an appointment with her today because I’ve kept up my appointments with her every week, even as long as I’ve been doing so well.  I’ve toyed with the idea of moving my visits out to every other week, but now I’m glad I haven’t.  And if she says I should meet with my Psychiatrist, I will.  I’ve worked way too hard, and much too long to ignore what could turn into a big problem.

The word of the day is vigilance.  It’s nice to live a quiet, normal life without a disease hanging over my every waking moment.  But it’s not smart to think that I can just ignore that fact.  I still have signs to watch for, and need to watch for even the slightest changes in mood.  Life IS good, and I want to make sure it stays that way.  I just have to remember, it is possible live a regular life even if I am bipolar.

But it will never be normal.

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It had to happen…

Well, it finally happened. Honestly, I’m not surprised, nor was it unexpected. I figured it would happen before now.

I’m bored.

I really don’t have a reason to be bored. Things are really going well, and have been for some time now. I have a lot things going on in my life that are good. For the first time in three years I have a job. Oh, I’ve been working for two and a half years, but it was as a contractor. I was happy to be working, but there was little security and I didn’t qualify for benefits. No Benefits! Now that’s a real problem, especially with my chronic, sometimes even life threatening illness. I was fortunate enough that I was able to pay for my meds out of pocket, and my therapist unbelievably only charged me what I could afford. There are other health aspects that have been completely ignored however. Several years ago I was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer. It turned out to be a false alarm, but it was based on my blood work. And I haven’t had that test done in over three years. Likewise, I had some serious issues with my lower IT that needs a colonoscopy every three years. Guess how long it’s been since I’ve had one? And so forth and so on; especially at my age things just happen. But a few weeks ago I was converted to a full time regular employee, with all the benefits and security that I needed. Work is crazy busy though. My normal day is 12 hours, and it’s not unusual to work at least one day on the weekend. It’s not just me either; all of my coworkers are in the same boat. There is just more work than we can keep up with.

That ought to keep things interesting, right?

I’ve got a growing relationship. We’ve been together now for almost 9 months, and it really couldn’t be going any better. We’re together almost every day. We have fun doing all the things I’ve ever hoped for in a partner. We talk, cook together, take day trips, hang out with friends, and laugh; there’s always laughter. And we dance. I have to dance. And she dances so well.

She has done a great deal in restoring my hope.

Emotionally I have been as stable as I think I’ve ever been. I have mood swings, but we all have mood swings. The difference is, mine are no different from anyone else’s. I have good days and bad days, but they are just that. The bad days don’t lead to depression, and my good days aren’t manic. My reactions to situations are completely appropriate. Gone is the road rage, and the feeling of inadequacy and failure when there are problems at work. My goal has been to be normal, and I think I’ve succeeded in spades. So what’s wrong with that? There’s not a thing wrong about it.

There’s just something missing

My days are very full, but they’re also very predictable. I’ve settled into a routine that rarely deviates. I sleep, I go to work, I spend time with my girlfriend, and I go back to sleep. Weekends are a little different, but still the same. We do fun things, of course. And they are enjoyable. We always have a great time.

But where’s the excitement?

For my entire life I’ve had two speeds; off and full steam ahead. Or, as I’ve been diagnosed; I’m bipolar. I do not miss the depressions. In fact, the mere thought of becoming depressed scares the hell out of me. I do not EVER want to go there again. But the mania; well, that’s a completely different story. I am Type I, and there are certainly times of total madness. But the majority of the time I’m just hypo-manic. In fact, the nature of my illness is that I am up way more than I am down. I wake up in the morning full of energy and raring to plunge into a new day. I work at almost a frantic pace; in fact, I perform much better when under stress. It’s easy to make friends when you are the life of the party, and my social life stays full. Relationships are adventurous, edgy, and even risky. All of them; because when I’m in a casual dating mode I usually have more than one. And the sex is off the charts. There’s very little that I won’t try, and I can usually find a partner willing to go there.

My therapist calls it being an adrenalin junkie. And she’s right.

So in discussions about it with my therapist, she had a lot of suggestions for things I could do to help bring the excitement and sense of purpose back. She thought I could volunteer for a charity. Or maybe I could learn how to play a new instrument, or paint, or take dancing lessons. Maybe her best suggestion was to work on turning my blog into a book; that thought might have just merit. But the truth is, adding new activities aren’t going to do anything about the lack of stimulation. I have things to do and my time stays full. It’s the energy I’m missing, not having anything to do.

This is pretty common with being bipolar.

For the most part, manias are a lot of fun. Even being self destructive and dangerous, the nature of the illness is that you don’t realize the risk. The creativity just pours out, and ideas bounce around faster than you can react. It’s a real high. But it is risky, and the reason for therapy and medications. And treatment plans can work as I’ve attested.

So…the fun stops and days become mundane and repetitive. Just like mine have become. It’s at this point that so many of us quit taking our meds. Speaking for myself, I don’t have the drastic emotions, and begin to question whether I even need to take meds. I think that maybe the diagnosis isn’t right after all, and I’ll do just fine without taking drugs. And with that, regain some of that energy and excitement that I’m missing.

Yeah, right; go ahead and reserve my room at the mental institution.

But I think my therapist has it wrong this time. I don’t need to look for new and thrilling activities. I certainly don’t need to dump this relationship to get that feeling you get when a relationship is young. I don’t want any more distractions, thank you. No, I think that it’s time to do what I’ve strived to do and put so much effort into or so long. It’s time to break the adrenaline habit and learn how to be satisfied with where I am. To coin a phrase; it’s time to stop and smell the roses. I’m in a very good place right now; maybe the best I’ve ever been. No, there’s no overwhelming exhilaration. I don’t tremble with anticipation for anything. I’m not out having wild monkey sex every night. What I’m experiencing is normalcy.

And that’s been the goal all along.

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A cry for help? Maybe not…

Oh the damage I’ve done. Bipolar disease is a mental illness, no question. But it does have physical aspects in many ways. The mental facet does have chemical, physical causes. The chemical imbalances and the way that the brain function works are definitely a root cause of this illness. That’s why the medications work the way they do. Antidepressants raise serotonin or dopamine levels. Anti-epileptic medications change the way that the synapses fire in the brain and for some reason acts as a mood stabilizer. Admittedly though, it’s called a mental illness for a reason. It may have a physical cause, but the results are definitely emotional.

But that’s not what I’m talking about.  I’m talking about the physical effects on the body that come from being bipolar.

Depression has had its effects on me for sure. When I split up from my last wife, I couldn’t eat at all. Part of it was because I was unemployed and broke, but it was mainly emotional. Even with food in the house, I could not make myself hungry or force myself to eat. In just a matter of a few months I lost almost 50 pounds! I’m not a big guy to begin with, and 50 pounds is more than significant. I became skin and bones. My waist and muscle mass got so small that I couldn’t keep any clothes on, and I had to go to the boy’s department to find anything that fit. I had a 29” waist! I remember going on a job interview one time, and being so embarrassed that I had to cinch my belt so tight to keep my trousers on and how my suit jacket hung on me like it was 4 sizes too big. And it was 4 sizes too big.

Mania has had its own impact on me too. My mania’s create an enormous amount of energy, and I’m sure generates a huge adrenalin surge. And the mania’s can last for months, keeping the body functions in high gear constantly. In fact, a few years ago I was hospitalized with what was ultimately passed off as a heat stroke. I was working in an extremely hot environment, and in some ways it did look like a heat stroke. In the hospital however they couldn’t find any evidence that is what really happened. My electrolytes were fine, potassium levels were normal, sodium was fine; yet my body was shutting down. My heart rate dropped to under 30 bpm, respiration’s were 10 per minute, and one by one my organs were shutting down. I now believe that I was suffering from an adrenalin overdose. I had been in a manic rage for weeks and weeks; an uncontrollable rage and boundless anger. And I think that after all that adrenalin my body just said ‘enough’. I’m sure that all those stimulants have to be damaging to the internal organs. The body has a way to protect itself, and I think that’s what happened. My body shut down to keep from burning out.

But there’s another physical side to mental illness too; the self inflicted ones.

Sometimes the damage was a side effect of the emotional state; particularly the rages. I’ve put my fist through walls, slammed my head down on tabletops, even punched a steel door so hard and so many times that I dented it. There’s no telling how many times I’ve broken fingers that way. That’s not intentional though, it’s a byproduct of the mood.

Then there are the times when it is on purpose. I have had times where I deliberately tried to break something. I’ve repeatedly hit my hand with a hammer as hard as I could, leaving deep bruises but fortunately never actually breaking anything. Sometimes the punches were intentional. I’d find a place where I could lash out where it would hurt but not do any damage to the target of my actions. I’ve banged my head against walls, slapped myself, and run into closed doors just to release some tension and anger.

And I’ve cut myself.

Oddly enough, that didn’t start until about the time I was diagnosed as bipolar in my early 50’s. I think the first time I did it I carved a “V” into my chest. I have no idea why I chose that letter, but there it was. It wasn’t deep or anything; more of a scratch really. In that particular case I don’t even remember what prompted it; I just did it.

But it got bad when my ex and I split up. The pain I had was just too intense to endure, and I had to find some release. So I would spend hours cutting into myself with a razor blade. I was not a slasher; my cuts were slow, repetitive and deep. I would go into the same wound over and over; getting deeper and bleeding more severely. I wasn’t generating a lot of red blood, it eventually came out so dark as to be almost purple; arterial blood I think. And it took a long time to stop bleeding too; sometimes a day or more. So why did I do that? What was the motivation or hoped for result? I think the answer is twofold. One, it was a distraction. I was not only agonizing about my situation but I was unemployed and isolated 7 x 24. That’s way too much time to think, and no way to get away. Focusing on the process of hurting myself, then dealing with the resulting wound kept my mind occupied on something else besides the intense pain. But it was more than that I think. I was so overwhelmed with emotion I needed a way to convert that into something tangible. I was feeling a pain that was physical instead of emotional. The bleeding was physical evidence to the pain. It wasn’t a way to get attention or sympathy either; I was alone, and the sites I chose to cut were hidden under my clothing. No one, not even my therapist knew. It was my own personal hell.

Now, I don’t believe that self harm is a symptom of just bipolar illness. In fact, it may have nothing to do with it at all, but come from another disorder or condition totally unrelated. I do know that there are plenty of people who do this that aren’t bipolar at all. I definitely have more going on than just being bipolar, so who can say what drives me?

The intense emotional pain one feels is much like steam pressure in a boiler. It can build and build until it’s at the point of exploding. But like that boiler has a steam release valve; we find other ways to release that pressure before getting completely engulfed. That release might come from lashing out in anger, abusing alcohol or drugs, even through positive activities such as running or exercise. And sometimes it’s an active choice; a choice to hurt ourselves.

Like suicide, I’ve often heard that cutting is just a cry for help. And I’m sure that is the case many times. But I don’t believe that’s always the reason. I know I went to great lengths to hide my evidence, and never, ever admitted it to my therapist or doctor while it was going on. It was my safety valve.

Don’t believe for one minute that my explanation is acceptance or encouraging this behavior. I absolutely do not condone self harm under any circumstances. Not only are you damaging you body in ways that may never be recovered, but open wounds are susceptible to diseases and infection. Broken bones may cause permanent damage and disability. It’s called ‘self harm’ for a reason; it’s harmful! And it may seem like it helps at the time, but really it’s just a way to avoid the real problems. It’s a symptom, and a very unhealthy and dangerous one. Don’t do it, Get help! It’s just not worth it! Ever.

Part of my healing and maintenance of my disease is admitting to myself that I’m in that kind of trouble, and seeking professional help. It’s been years since I’ve had any urges to hurt myself, but the last few times I did, I went to my doctor before I acted out on them, and dealt with the real problems before they got to that point. It’s a difficult thing; but every aspect of mental illness is difficult. It took years and years for me to accept that I was bipolar and follow a treatment plan. But eventually I did, and I’m as healthy as I’ve ever been, with every reason to believe that I will continue to be.

Physical effects such as these can have lifelong consequences. The strain on the organs, the fluctuations in weight, changes in blood sugar, and the scars can be permanently damaging. I certainly have my share of scars, inside and out. The scars inside, both emotional and physical are not good, and I’m committed to do all I can to control it and limit further damage by staying true to my treatment. The same is true with the visible ones. But, for me anyway the results of self abuse and harm are the worst of all. In a strange way though, I’m proud of them, for they show I’m a survivor. I’ve been through such terrible times that I had to resort to intentional injury, yet here I am; I’ve persevered and overcome. But really, the best way to deal with self harm is to never let myself get to that point where I just can’t help myself. It may seem effective, but there are many more ways to cope.

I believe that self inflected pain is a physical manifestation of emotional pain. And the best way to prevent that is to deal with the emotional pain before there’s a need to cause self harm. Ultimately self harm solves nothing, and at best only provides a very temporary relief. I’m healing, growing stronger, and getting better at conquering my disease very day. I’m determined to never, ever let myself get to that point ever again.

I have enough scars already.

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Tattoos and Views

My Girlfriend doesn’t like my tattoo. Not that she has anything against tattoos in general; she just doesn’t like this specific one. (In fact, I have two, and the second one doesn’t bother her in the least). It’s high enough on my shoulder that it’s only visible when I choose for it to be. The offending ink is a heart bleeding from four pieces broken off. When I had it done it was to represent my four ex-wives each taking a bit of my heart. But there is plenty of heart left. In fact, the four broken pieces combined are only about 25% of the whole.   Failed relationships may have broken my heart for a time, but I’ve yet to be broken beyond love.

That’s not how she sees it however.

To her, it’s a memorial of all my ex-wives.

She doesn’t really have a problem that I’ve been married so many times. She herself has several under her belt, and completely understands how these things happen. It is evident to her that there has been tremendous growth on both our parts regarding relationships, and we are in complete agreement that no matter what happens, neither of us wants to remarry. Still, she doesn’t like being reminded. She’s not an inappropriately jealous person, but nobody wants to think of their partner being with someone else. If you’re realistic you’ll acknowledge it, but not dwell on it; and certainly not imagining specifics. I’m totally on board with that. I don’t like thinking about her being with any of her former partners either.

But that’s really not what my tat is about. For me, the focus is on the heart remaining. But for her, it’s about my ex’s.

It’s just how you look at things.

That’s really true for just about everybody, isn’t it? Everybody is going to have their own views and perspectives about everything. Seeing the Mona Lisa is going to affect everyone in a unique way. It could be anywhere from disliking it, to indifference, to being moved to tears. A personal favorite of mine is a painting by Edward Hopper that’s in the Chicago Art Institute called Nighthawks. It depicts a period of history that I have always been interested in. There is an air of quiet desperation and sadness. Not that I’m trying to be morbid or moody, but there has been enough of that desperation in my life that I identify with this painting. My girlfriend couldn’t care less about it.

Politics is another example. There is a very wide gap between the extreme left wing and right wing parties. They can have vastly different agendas, the programs they support are different and how it’s paid for out of the Government Treasury (and where the money comes from into the Treasury) is night and day. As you move towards the middle the lines between the two start to blur. You may support some of the same programs, but disagree how it’s to be funded. Or you could agree on funding, but have different purposes for it’s use. And so forth and so on.

And none of them are wrong. It’s a perspective.

Perspectives are based on so many different factors and influences that develop over a lifetime. They start developing from the moment of birth, and change and grow the rest of your life. What was that book? “All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten”. That’s sort of true I think, but in my opinion it should be more like “All I really needed to know I learned BY Kindergarten”. How a baby is treated from the beginning can shape an entire lifetime. Some parents (One or both) may be nurturing and loving. Sometimes the care is so extreme that it’s actually harmful; picking up a baby every time it cries for example. That behavior can teach one that if you whine and cry, you can get what you want. Even as an adult; the whining and crying just takes on a different form. A parent’s personality is a part of it too, as is the way they were raised.

Our basic personality is created in the formative years; 0 to 5 years old.

As you grow, you start to have your own experiences, and even though others are also experiencing the same thing, many factors are responsible for different points of view. Growing up in the Western US is going to provide a view that is totally apart from someone who grows up on the East Coast. A child of a farmer sees a much different life from one whose parents are big city executives. Specific events such as a horrific automobile accident or illness can have an impact. My first wife had been in such an accident when she was 8 years old. She had a few very faint scars right at the hairline of her scalp, but she was fanatical about keeping her bangs combed over her forehead, even though it really didn’t cover anything that was visible. She was terrified to drive even one mile over the speed limit, and insisted on driving herself everywhere.

I’ve never been in an accident like that, and it was difficult for me to understand.

And then there is the physical aspect of a personality. The dominant side of the brain controls whether you are creative and artistic, or logical and scientific. Everybody has a different level of intelligence. It may stem from a birth event such as having the cord cutting off oxygen flow during delivery. A traumatic injury can be a factor. Or there may be a high or low level of intelligence for no discernible reason. It’s just how the brain is built. A more intelligent person is going to have a deeper understanding of complex issues which is going to be vastly different from how someone with a low IQ is going to have.

And even people with the same IQ are going to have differences of opinions.

Body chemistry is another factor. How your body produces serotonin or dopamine impacts pervasive moods. Illnesses such as epilepsy, diabetes or MS can impact a point of view. Even something as simple as how a body metabolizes vitamins can be an influence. If you don’t absorb Vitamin B12 for example, it can cause sadness or even depression.

Ah yes; Depression.

Mood disorders are by and large unexplainable. There is a physical element, an environmental element and a basic personality one, just to name a few.

The point is, even with some shared experiences or backgrounds every single life has a unique set of circumstances that brings them to this particular moment in time. Even though you think you might empathize with someone because of you’ve been in the same position, how you got there can be vastly different, and may be (usually is) experienced in its own way. The series of events, the order in which they happen, and how it’s all perceived brings us all to our own viewpoint.

So what does it all mean?

Let’s use Bipolar disorder as an example. (Surprise!)

How someone who is afflicted with this illness can bring feelings of confusion, especially if undiagnosed. There can be anger, isolation, fear, and total despair for their life. There is often bitterness and a feeling of unfairness, and even shame that comes with the illness. It can be a horrible experience.

This can be totally different from someone who loves a person who is bipolar. They may be frustrated from wanting to help and not being able to. Or the frustration could come from their loved one refusing to get help or follow a treatment plan. It’s frequent that the consequences of behaviors are left for them to deal with. Pain and even abuse may have to be endured. Even if sympathetic, the effects of the illness are going to shape their experiences.

And if you have no direct involvement with this illness? It depends on your level of knowledge, personality, and exposure. One with bipolar could just be considered crazy, or a victim, or not even considered at all.

Perspectives are unique. We are who we are as a result of what we’ve been through. There is no way to truly comprehend another’s position; the way they got there is theirs alone. You can never really understand. Nor can you be understood by anyone else. True, it’s possible to identify and agree with the opinions and feelings of others, but it’s still as a result of your own personal journey. We are all unique, just like everybody else.

That gives us all a choice.

Opinions, viewpoints, and principles can be strictly adhered to with no exception. Others who don’t agree with you are just flat out wrong. It’s my way or the highway. Or, there could be a lack of conviction for anything. No opinion is an opinion; it’s just based on nothing. Then there is tolerance and acceptance. You don’t have to agree, you can even be strongly opposed to another point of view; but you can agree to disagree. There can be a recognition that everybody is different and did not get where they are by the same path as they did. Personally, I strive to embrace the quote of Evelyn Beatrice Hall. To paraphrase just a little, “I disagree with what you think, but will defend to the death your right to think it”.

That’s my opinion anyway.

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My World, my view.

I write a lot about my feelings and opinions. I mean, that’s kind of the purpose of keeping a blog; it’s a record of what’s going on in my life. And those opinions and feelings are going to change as time goes on and I progress through my therapies, and even how I react to things on any given day. But I also think that I can be contradictory and confusing sometimes, even in the same article. There are reasons for that I think, not all of them good ones.

But maybe it’s time to clarify a few things.

In spite of apparent flip-flopping opinions, I do have some strong beliefs. I’m sure it doesn’t always come across that way, but there is always an underlying truth that comes from my core essence. In fact, that has been a focus of my therapy for a while; connecting my inner self to my outer behaviors. My goal is that what shows matches what’s real to me. I’m not there yet, but I am making progress.

So these are some of my driving factors.

Bipolar disorder is truly a physical illness. This is a scientific fact. However it is physical only in the root cause. It may stem from a chemical imbalance and brain function, but the end results are emotional. That’s why in my opinion, it’s in the DSM to begin with, and listed as a disorder. The point I try to make is, even though it’s a mental illness, it’s initially caused by physical characteristics and not a choice or weakness. I do tend to compare it with other physical illnesses, and there is some truth to that. When a diabetic has very low blood sugar it can make them very grumpy and irritable. But it’s grumpy and irritable, not abusive or grandiose. There are definite similarities, but the impact and severity of symptoms is drastically different. It is a disease, no doubt. But while it does have physical beginnings like so many other diseases, it’s not the same.

There’s no blame or shame to being bipolar. No one ever chooses to be bipolar. Whether it’s believed to be physical in nature or not, it’s not intentional. And as such, it’s nothing to be ashamed. I’m not saying it’s something to be proud of, or proclaimed from the rooftops, but there’s no sense in beating yourself down or feeling guilty because you have this illness. The only shame is the blame given by others.

That being said, there is also a responsibility that goes along with being bipolar. We may not always be able to control our actions, but we are always responsible for the results. If you charge $10,000 during a manic spending spree, you have to pay it back. Not keeping up with financial obligations because you’re too depressed to function doesn’t absolve you from eventually fulfilling those obligations. There are consequences to everything, and should not be ignored.

Pain that is caused is real, and lasting. Feelings that are hurt cannot be unhurt. I think that’s why so many relationships fail. Even when a bipolar spouse acknowledges the illness and seeks out treatment, the effects of prior behaviors cannot be undone. One of my favorite analogies is if you break a plate during a fit of anger, when you calm down and realize what you’ve done, you can be very sorry and repentant. You can even glue all the pieces back together and make the plate useable again. But the plate was in pieces, and even if repaired, will always have the cracks. The same is true with feelings. You can understand, you can accept, you can forgive; even if you can forget, there will always be scars. I think that’s why so many times (especially in my personal experience) that a relationship ends just as recovery begins. The spouse my feel responsible (Or driven by guilt) for caring from someone who is sick, but once that person is able to take care of themselves, that releases the commitment.  I have felt that it was very unfair that I was left just as I was getting better, but the reality is that the plate had been broken, and acceptance and treatment wasn’t going to fix it.

I think education is extremely important.  Education in general of course, but specifically in this realm it’s important to know as much as possible about mental illnesses. No, even with extensive study and great knowledge, it isn’t possible to really empathize. Even one bipolar person cannot truly understand another; each illness is unique and personal. That being said, the more knowledge one has, the more tolerant and accepting they will be. Stigma will never go away, there are always going to be those who either through lack of knowledge or lack of caring that are going to be prejudiced. But the stigmas can be reduced with teaching and information.

It’s not exactly germane, but spirituality is a definite strength. But to me, the choices about one’s beliefs are deeply personal and private. I don’t want anyone telling me what I need to believe, or how much better theirs is. If you want to share your feelings about God, show me, don’t tell me. God by definition is beyond comprehension. Who am I to say I have the ultimate understanding and the correct way to express it. Just like everyone else, the feelings, emotions and perspectives are completely unique.

If there is one thing that specifically creates confusion and inconsistencies in my writings, it’s my feelings that everyone has a right to their own feelings and beliefs. There is no way anyone can truly understand what someone else experiences. We all have our own emotional base. Our lives are shaped by the personal events that are unique. A child of an alcoholic parent is going to see things completely different from one who grew up in a more traditional home. Suffering a horrific car accident can change perspectives on life and surviving. Living through a major medical event can impact thoughts of mortality. Every single life is different; no one can possibly understand the events that have brought you to this moment in time.  This does have an impact on how I come across I’m sure. My thoughts tend to be tempered by acknowledgment that no one can exactly see things the same way I do.

If there are any entitlements, this is one of them.

Another major influence in the changeability of my blog is the way I create it. I write in the moment. It’s really a stream of consciousness. I might have an idea I want to explore, or an event that is important, even just the kind of day I’m having.  Except for a brief review for spelling and punctuation, I publish as soon as I reach some kind of conclusion. So I might start writing with one frame of mind, then as I reason through as I write I might end in a completely different place. The more therapy I have, and the more understanding I have of myself, the more my views and feelings can progress. Immediately after my last separation I was writing from a place of pain and abandonment. Not that the years have passed, I have a better idea of what really happened, accept the reality for what it is and move on. I felt very judgmental in the beginning, but now I kind of get it. And I certainly can sympathize the others who go through similar situations.

My mood is of course a major driver. Reading back through the last two years of writings, I think it’s easy to see the depressions, the manias, and the periods in between. If that doesn’t shape opinion and perspective, I don’t know what could. That’s what being bipolar is all about, isn’t it? You live your life from one extreme to another. The more control I have over the swings that are this illness, the more consistent my feelings will be.

I do try very hard to be patient and tolerant of everyone’s opinions, and accept differences with respect. No, I don’t always succeed, and I never completely will.  Hopefully ou will see however that I really strive to see all sides of an issue, and give credit to each. But make no mistake, acceptance is not weakness. I believe what I believe, and I try to shape my life as such.

Let me believe mine, and I’ll let you have yours.

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It’s going to be Okay…

Should I leave my bipolar partner? “Blog about being married to a Bipolar Addict” “Fed up with it all” “Bipolar Relationships” “Should I stay or should I go”.

These are just some of the most common search terms that lead to my blog, and some of the most often read subjects.

Apparently there are a lot of people who struggle with a significant other who is bipolar. More often than not, the searches and comments relate more how to end a relationship, or justify the decision, or even gain approval from others. I’m not making any assumptions; I think that people who are successful in this kind of relationship are less likely to be searching for this type of article. Many of the comments that don’t relate to relationships are more about gaining insight or understanding in the illness. But it does seem that there are more people who are looking for help deciding if bipolar relationships are possible.

Who are they trying to convince?

I believe that if you truly love someone, and they happen to be mentally ill, it’s a tough decision to walk away. Many times it comes to that, but there can be a lot of guilt involved, and a loss of love much like a death. For the most part, no one is going to judge anyone who decides that they have to end a bipolar relationship. The person who struggles with the choice is only themselves.

That’s true, isn’t it? Does anyone really blame a person who leaves their crazy spouse or significant other? In today’s society it’s perfectly acceptable for a person to split up over a mental illness. In fact, I think it’s more understood than the person who tough it out. “How can they stay married to such a sicko?” “Why do they put up with that kind of behavior?” “I can’t believe they haven’t left yet!”

And yet, Bipolar illness is a disease. It’s not something that’s chosen or even starts with bad decisions. It’s a physical disease. True, it can be complicated by personality disorders and environment, even the decision on whether or not to seek help. But the root cause is purely physical.

Just like any other illness.

Heart attack victims often suffer from deep depressions after surviving an attack. You might think that it should be the opposite, but there are clinical reasons why this happens so much. Many times there can be physical changes in body chemistry that trigger a depression. I think there’s a tendency to look at one’s own mortality rather than celebrate a second chance. But there you have it. Recovering from a major heart attack can take months, if not years. And when you add in the mental aspect that so frequently goes along with it, it can be an awful lot to deal with.

But who leaves their spouse for having a heart attack? Society would be outraged! What a cold hearted selfish ass.

You can apply that to other illnesses as well. It can be unbelievably difficult to support your loved one through cancer. The treatments are often horrific. Chemotherapy can cause extreme weakness and constant nausea. They are sick all the time, many times requiring around the clock care. Watching the physical changes and the emotional impact of these treatments can be heartbreaking. Seeing someone’s hair fall out, or losing their fingernails, having extreme weight loss can be an emotional nightmare for the caregiver. But no matter how difficult, the expectation is that it will be handled with dignity and strength. Breaking down in private is okay, but to the world, and to the victim, you must be strong and positive!

It’s inconceivable that anyone could justify walking away.

Even though it’s also very much a physical disease, alcoholism is another condition that is justified in ending a relationship. Nobody likes a drunk. They are often abusive, and create financial havoc. They can spend money uncontrollably, be irresponsible with paying the living expenses, and lose their jobs.

Sound familiar? It’s much like being bipolar.

It is, but at the same time it isn’t. Becoming an alcoholic takes years. It’s an addiction, and without the introduction of alcohol how can one get addicted. So it starts with a choice. True, the motivation for that choice can also be from uncontrollable factors. There can be underlying illness, traits and circumstances that lead to excessive drinking. And at some point, the ability to control it becomes impossible. But there is a difference I think. There are no choices that lead to being bipolar. Yes, there are definitely choices that make it worse, but the disease is there.

But really that’s not the point.

The point is, why is one illness is different from another. Society condemns the person who leaves a chronically ill mate. Yet there is almost an expectation that one leave a mentally ill one.

I think you I see it both ways.

Personally I can’t blame anyone for reaching a breaking point. Any illness can completely overwhelm the ability of a caregiver to cope. Society dictates how we react, and what the perceptions of others might be, but everyone has their limitations. Expectations and opinions might push those limits, but we all have them.

And I believe that what is considered acceptable is changing.

Look at divorce in general. 50 years ago it was almost unheard of. And divorcees were almost shunned; there’s just something wrong with a person who willingly leaves a marriage. It was expected that no matter how bad things were, you just stuck it out. But even then, mental illness was a valid reason; maybe not always divorce, but certainly for emotional abandonment. Mentally ill spouses were quietly put away in sanatoriums, or just ignored, even locked up in their own room to wallow in their illness. Of course, there were a lot of misconceptions about mental illness then, and very few treatment options. But it was understood when the relationship ended. But now divorce is not only common, in many ways it’s expected. I keep hearing that the divorce rate in the US is 50%; personally I think it’s higher. It certainly is in my world. Out of all the people I know, it’s not one out of two who have never been divorced. In fact, I’d be surprised if it’s one in ten. It’s too easy to get out, and too acceptable. Mental illness is still a completely valid reason for divorce, but more and more it’s just not questioned at all. Illness, disease, personality, or just not getting along are becoming less important factors. People just get divorced; it’s become a way of life.

In the end it really comes down to a personal choice, regardless of the reason. On one hand it’s sad that unions are not considered to be lifelong anymore, on the other it’s good that everybody has the ability to change their life in what’s ultimately a positive way. The decision to leave a significant other is very difficult, but sometimes is just unavoidable to have any hope of a happy life. Living with a disease, any disease takes its toll. I think we just search our hearts, seek out support, and recognize when we reach the end of the ability to cope. It’s a struggle, and not a decision to be approached lightly. So I say, read the books, talk to your clergy, seek out therapy, and search the blogs.

The person to be convinced is you.   And it’s okay.

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What’s there to worry about?

My life has been so fraught with problems. Okay, I’m bipolar; maybe saying so is a little silly. Then again, there have been issues unrelated to the illness. There have been screw ups at work. I’ve had car trouble that left me stranded, and either paying for repair or even buying a new car. How am I going to do that on my pay? Then there are job layoffs. In today’s economy that could happen at any time. There have been so many issues in the past, and so many problems to come.

There’s so much to worry about.

You know that feeling you get when something bad happens at work? It may not be something you’ve done that you know about, but there’s no question that something is wrong. Os of course, you immediately start to worry about what you’ve done, feeling sure it’s your fault. Then the worry starts. What if I get written up? I’m going to have a hard time paying my bills if I get suspended for a few days. How am I going to survive if I lose my job?

My car is over 14 years old. It has to be just a matter of time before it completely dies. I’ve already had to spend a ton of money keeping it running; I’ve replaced the radiator, repaired a broken strut, replaced a broken windshield and have had it in the shop four times to get the air conditioner working. In fact, I now have a completely new air conditioning system as all the parts are new. So what’s next?

I’m having a great time with my girlfriend. We’re not about to get married or anything (God forbid!) but I look forward to spending time with her almost every day. I’ve had so many failed relationships in the past, when will this one end? I was really worried this weekend. She had spent the weekend out of town with her family. I knew she would be occupied, but still I didn’t like not hearing from her but just a few times. She told me before she left that she would call me when she was on her way home so we could ‘catch up’. (Like we’ve been apart for SO long) Then there was an incident with her roommate. Well, she’s not really a roommate, but she does rent a room my girlfriend has over her garage. She does have house privileges though to do laundry and such, and for whatever reason, she can’t remember to turn off the lights and lock the door when she leaves. She’s been asked over and over to make sure, and had her key to the back door (which is closest to her room) taken away as that door gets left open most often. So during the weekend I stopped by the house to check on things as she had requested. The roommate was out somewhere, and sure enough, the back door was not only unlocked, but was left wide open! No one there at all, and the air conditioner running wide open trying to cool the entire county!  There is a key on the inside of the door, so apparently she used that to go back to her room. So I took that key, and hid it away. I figured that if she couldn’t even open the door, she couldn’t leave it unlocked. Then, there was a confrontation. It was not five minutes later roommie came to me to ask about the key, and for me to get it back to her. I said no. Not ugly or rude, I just told her that I’d found the door open, and I knew my girlfriend has asked her, repeatedly, not to use that door. Not to mention, she is involved in a rather ugly divorce, and there’s no telling what her ex husband would do if he came by and found the door open. That was that. I wasn’t going to give her the key. Needless to say, she was not happy with that at all.

But I digress. It’s the day my girlfriend is due home. She always leaves early in the morning, and gets home by 3:00pm at the very latest. I texted her first thing and asked that she please call me when she got on the road. I wanted to tell her about the confrontation with her roommate before she got home and walked into a mess. Noon passes, and not a word. Then it’s 1:00pm. Now it’s 2:00pm At 3:00pm, I was convinced that either something had happened to her on the way, or that she was upset with me, or she just didn’t want to talk. Now my imagination is running wild. I did have the problem with the roommate, and it would be safe to assume that she had called as soon as I had left. The two of them have been friends for 30 or more years; of course she’s going to take her side over mine. I’m not only worried, but the later it got the more I was hurt. Does she not care enough to even send me a text to let me know she’s okay? I couldn’t believe that she could be so inconsiderate. I even started thinking that the entire relationship was over.

Wow. That’s a big problem.

You know what thought? She called me at 4:30pm to tell me that there had been an electrical emergency in her house, and she was just now getting on the road. The second words out of her mouth were how much she missed me, and she couldn’t wait to get home to me. Then she said she had talked to her roommate, and she thanked me for taking care of it the way I did.

And that’s the way it usually goes.

Out of all the things I’ve worried about over the years have never really happened. Or if they did happen, I’ve been able to figure out a way to cope. In fact, the things I’ve fretted about the most that have come to pass usually end up leaving me better off. Every job I’ve ever lost has ended up in an even better job. Even now; I don’t really love what I’m doing, and it’s at a much lower level than I’ve been in decades. But for now, it’s perfect for me. It’s a little stressful, but the stress comes from the overwhelming volume of work, not from having so much personal responsibility. And at the end of the day I leave it all behind. You can’t do that when you are the top dog.

My car is old, but it’s a Volvo, and it only has 180k miles on it. I’ve had Volvos in the past that have given me almost 500k before they had to be gotten rid of. And if it dies I have no doubt I’ll figure out how to get new transportation. I’ll never be homeless. I live next door to my best friend, and he’s already taken me in once when I was in trouble, and I have no doubt he’d take me in again if I needed it.

I’m 53 years old. I am confident that no matter what happens, I can cope. Why do I worry about so many things? It is human nature I think. But I realized a while ago that there’s no reason to be concerned about what might happen. It’s not a bad idea to consider scenarios and have a plan A and B on how to respond. Even doing that however can be a waste of time. Very few things that have happened is resolved the way I planned. But they were all resolved, or I wouldn’t be here now. Not worrying doesn’t mean being irresponsible; it means that you trust yourself to take care of whatever might happen.

Being bipolar adds to the complexity just a bit. There are times of great irresponsibility. Depression can completely immobilize you, and create a world of hurt that eventually has to be cleaned up. It’s just another facet of life though. The mania episodes end and the depressions fade. And instead of worrying about it, I am proactively dealing with it by staying in treatment and maintaining my medications. I can survive.

There are enough real problems that happen in life, I don’t have the energy to waste on the ‘what if’s’ and imagined catastrophes. I’ve made it this far in spite of all the things that life has thrown at me. And I know that I have the skills, education and experience to continue to do so. So really, what is there to worry about?  It’s going to be okay.

No worries…

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Lord knows I’ve had my share of problems in my life. Between the bad choices, the personality disorders, the crazy marriages and of course being Bipolar has created nothing but chaos. And the impact has affected not just myself, but scores of people over the years. That’s the nature of this beast we call bipolar; the destruction is not just towards me, but there’s a lot of collateral damage.

I’m fortunate however to have finally realized my illness and accepted responsibility for my actions.

I haven’t done it alone though. I’ve had a lot of help. Obviously the Doctors and Therapist I’ve used have contributed to a large part of my improvements. But it’s more than that. I’ve had friends, coworkers, family and spouses who have supported me and helped me in ways they may never know. And I’ve learned that I can depend on those special people who know me well enough to be able to recognized signs of mood swings and help me to address them proactively. Sometimes even those who are not trying to help ends up being beneficial. Loosing something or someone that I care about has often put me in a position to want to change so it won’t happen again.

Yes, I’ve had a lot of help.

And that motivates me to want to give back. My personality type has always been a ‘rescuer’. In fact, several of my failed relationships started with my trying to take care of someone who I decided needed my help. I felt like I could fix them if they’d only let me. I’m always ready to lend a hand anyway I can. Do you need help in the yard? I’m there. Are you short on cash? Let me pay. Does something need to be fixed? Let me take a crack at it. Are you sad? I have a shoulder to cry on. Do you need advice? Boy do I have the experience for that. I’ll give away the shirt off my back if it’s needed.

As long as it’s appreciated.

There are plenty of people who will take advantage of people like me.   They take and take, but never give anything back. Just a lilttle appreciation goes a long way. That’s not my motivation, but be honest; doesn’t some acknowledgement feel good?

I’ve mentioned several times about a friend of mine who is going through a particularly painful separation / divorce. And now her mother is sick, and likely to die very soon. She has the weight of the world on her shoulders.

And I so want to help.

You see, I’ve been there. I can completely empathize with her struggles. And I’ve lived through it and learned a great deal about myself and how to deal with the pain. No surprise, she’s extremely depressed too. Hello! I’ve got THAT Tee shirt, in spades. Realizing that everybody is unique and responds to different approaches I am not foolish enough to think that what worked for me will work for her. In fact, it’s highly unlikely. I have tried so many different methods though. And going through all the therapy has given me insight into all kinds of ways that help. With all the drugs I’ve been on, I’m practically a freakin’ pharmacist. I can’t fix her, but I can sure help steer her in the right direction. Or at least some direction. I try not to give direct advice. I’m not qualified and do not presume to diagnose or treat. I can only offer my insight, experiences I’ve had, opinions (if asked for), and basic knowledge of things I’ve learned about. But always with a disclaimer. I acknowledge that everything offered is an opinion. And my only real advice is to see a professional. I know that even if I can’t help directly, I can get her to someone who will.

But she won’t let me.

She refuses to even acknowledge she has a problem. There is nothing going on that she doesn’t feel like she’s up to handling. Part of the issue is, I think that deep down she knows something is wrong, but she’s not ready or willing to face it. The separation from her husband for example: If she gets help to address it, she won’t be able to ignore it like she has been.

It’s extremely distressing to me though.

My personality wants to fix things. My affection for her is concerned about he being so unhappy.  She’s making a lot of bad and self destructive decisions that worry me. She is negatively affecting others around me that I also care about. I don’t care what she thinks; every indication is that she’s absolutely miserable.

It is really frustrating!

Without diminishing her situation at all, she’s dealing with isolated circumstances that will eventually resolve. But what about dealing with a lifelong, incurable disease? What if what if the person who needs help is bipolar?

Oh my God…

I see a lot of articles and blogs that detail how a person may really love their spouse, but they just can’t deal with them anymore. Yes, there are direct actions that can be the deal breakers. Violence, verbal abuse, financial catastrophe, legal problems that often go along with this illness can just be too much. But I have to believe that there’s a frustration level from wanting to help, needing to help, having to assist with and participate in treatment that is beyond definition. The more you love a person, the harder it is to see them go through such suffering. It can be too painful to even watch. There is a self preservation that eventually kicks in that brings a person to the end point.

Not always of course. There are stories I hear where couples push through it all and manage to get past the struggle. Every situation is personal, the capacity and ability to cope is unique, and the strength of the relationship can be very different. But I think that the majority of the time, relationships just don’t survive. No judgment either way; it just seems that is the way it is.

And given the difficulties with trying to help, needing to participate, and desire to make them well it’s no wonder it fails so many times. Regardless of how much a person is invested in someone’s health and well being, it just might not be possible to achieve. There are too many factors contributing to the outcome.   The willingness of the other partner to work together and commit to their own improvement can often determine the outcome. But, alas; sometimes it just isn’t enough.

I am a helper. I want to rescue. I believe that my insight and knowledge, and even experience can be valuable to others dealing with similar issues. I feel like I’ve made great strides in my own healing, and I would like other suffering like I did to heal some too. I’ve had a lot of people give me tremendous guidance and support, lifting me up from the worst of times and celebrating the successes. I want to give that back to others in need.

But just as I’ve learned for myself; ultimately the help comes from within. No matter the desire, the ability or the willingness; it’s not up to me. All I can do is care. And know when to quit.

Because sometimes, that’s the only choice.

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Can you trust this? Can I?

It’s really great how well things have gone over the last year.   Sure, I’ve had some ups and downs, but even with all the difficulties I’ve had, I’ve still managed to maintain well, and kept my mood appropriate. After so many years, it’s been really nice, and so encouraging that maybe, just maybe I’ve mastered this illness.

Why don’t I believe that?

If I’m honest, I feel like I’ve been here before. For years I lived without any noticeable symptoms. My career was going great, I was making really good money, had tons of friends, and even had the prerequisite trophy wife. I remember at the time feeling like I had finally arrived: I was living the dream.

But I have to ask myself: Really?

This time of my life was pre-diagnoses. Maybe I didn’t recognize any symptoms because I wasn’t aware that I had any. Now that I understand my mood swings better, I really wonder if I was doing as well as I believed. Thinking back, there was evidence of the illness even then. I now think I was mostly hypo-manic.   Yes, I had a great job; I had several in fact. Through two or three jobs I would get angry about something and look for something new. And I was always able to find something new too. My personality was positive and confident. The bullshit factor was strong; I talked myself into positions I was in no way qualified for. I pushed myself hard, working 14 or more hours per day, every day. Working so hard and so long I was able to produce some really amazing results. Until I got mad, and moved on.

Hmmmm…Grandiose thinking perhaps? Yeah, maybe.

My anger threshold was very low. It didn’t take much at all to put me over the edge. At the slightest provocation I would go off on anybody, usually someone who really didn’t deserve it. I demanded excellence from everyone. From grocery store clerks to senior management, I would not tolerate anything less than I felt I deserved. I did not suffer idiots kindly; and they were all idiots. And when they didn’t perform to my expectations, I would go into a rage and tear the offending party a new asshole. And do NOT get in my way on the road. Very few things would piss me off more than a moron driving in the left hand lane slower than I wanted to go. So I would tailgate as close as I possibly could, until the fool caught on and moved out of the way. Never mind I wanted to go 20 Mph over the speed limit… just move and let me by! My closest friends were not immune either. If I felt like I had been slighted in any way, I would turn on them in a skinny minute. It’s my way, or the highway. In short; I was a complete asshole.

Does that sound just a little manic?

I had my down times too. When I decided to leave my job (or it was decided for me) if I didn’t immediately find something better I would go into a deep funk. I was not depressed mind you, it was just so sad that others couldn’t see my potential and value, lining up to entice me to join their team. In the rare occasions that I couldn’t get instant gratification I would withdraw and pout. I know I was OCD to the point of ridiculous. I’d get an idea in my head, and move heaven and earth until it was done.

So is now any different?

I feel good. I think my reactions and behaviors are entirely appropriate to the circumstances. I’ve been in the same job for almost 3 years, even though it’s neither highly responsible nor prestigious. I come to work, I do my job according to the way I’m told, and I go home. And when I’m home, I don’t think about work at all. It’s a job, and I’m doing it as well as need be. I’m developing a relationship that I’m very happy with. Obviously I’ve thought that before with all my marriages, not finding out until later that my happiness was really thorough rose colored glasses. I have much more insight now. I’ve learned to look for red flags, and listen to them. I watch how she responds to her own circumstances, and evaluate if they are what I think is appropriate. We fight from time to time. That’s actually a good thing I think. Nobody gets along 100% of the time, there will always be differences of opinion, and there will be days that one or both of you are just having bad days. In my previous relationships, we never fought. And it was simply because it wasn’t real, it was what I chose it to be.

Still, I wonder.

The people I’m closest to know of my illness, and also watch for extreme shifts in behaviors. That’s very important, and I rely on that a great deal. Nobody else can see inside my head however, and the subtle (and sometimes even not so subtle) changes aren’t always evident to anyone else. Or by the time they are, it’s too late. Not to mention, everybody has their own issues to deal with. I can’t expect anyone to always pay attention to how I’m acting. People get wrapped up in their own lives, and it’s unfair and unrealistic to think that my life is their only priority. The input and observations are important, but it’s not something I should hang my complete well being.

My Therapist is a very good litmus test. She has been with me through the worst of times and the best of times. She is a trained professional, knows what to look for and for at least an hour a week she’s totally focused on just me. I depend a great deal on her perspective. But I can’t completely trust that. I can’t completely trust anyone. Except for one person:

I have to trust myself.

And therein lies the problem. I don’t trust myself. Too many times in the past I’ve believed that my life is where it ought to be. Sometimes it’s felt like my illness was being managed, only to find out that it wasn’t going as well as I believed. It’s been a relatively short time that I’ve even acknowledged that I do have an illness, so how can I really judge my successes? If I don’t know I’m sick, how can I possibly know if I’m not being normal?

In spite of all that, I do believe that this time is different. I do have a lot of new knowledge about not only myself, but the illness in general. I have learned to listen very closely to my warning signs, and have come to understand just how important it is to act on them quickly and decisively. Honesty is key; with my friends, with my Therapist, and most importantly to myself. Hiding feelings or behaviors does no good whatsoever. Ignoring the signs and red flags does not make them go away. I have come to depend on my support system, and accept their help when it’s offered. But I know that in the end, there’s truly only one person I can completely trust. And trust has to be built over time, and earned; even when it’s trusting yourself. Am I doing as well as I hope and believe I am? Only time will tell. In the meantime however, I have to believe that whatever happens, if I’m just kidding myself or finally self aware, or even if I’ve got it totally wrong,

I trust that it will all be okay.

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The shame of it all.

I had a little, um, incident this week.  Actually, the incident took place about a month ago, when I was caught outside in a rainstorm. I know, it’s been proven that running through the rain doesn’t get you any less wet than walking, but reflexes took over and I took off.  About 20 paces in, I heard a ‘pop’, and something in my knee gave way.  Ouch.

But I don’t have health insurance.  I knew there was something wrong, but since I am paying for healthcare out of pocket I decided I just needed to suck it up and wait for whatever it was to heal on its own.

That worked fine… for about three days.

I was sore, but not too terribly so: until I twisted just right getting my lunch out of the microwave at work.  The knee went ‘pop’ again, and down I went.  A coworker helped me back to my desk, and I hobbled out to the car later that day and went to an after-hours clinic.  A torn meniscus, they said.  They put an elastic sleeve on my leg, and told me to stay off it for a few days.  Well, crutches are a pain in the ass, and I only used them for a day or so before giving up on them.  I did manage to keep my knee elevated and iced, but the swelling just wouldn’t go down.

After three weeks of this, with no diminishing of pain or swelling I gave in and went to see an Orthopedic Doctor.  He did X-Rays and a thorough examination and confirmed that it was indeed a torn meniscus.  And it was torn bad enough that it wasn’t going to heal on its own, and that I needed surgery to get it fixed.

Great.  That’s $10,000 I don’t have.

In the meantime, he suggested a steroid shot in the joint might help the swelling and inflammation so that it wouldn’t be quite so painful.  At this point I was ready for any relief and told him to go ahead.

That was a big mistake…

I got the shot (Which hurt like you wouldn’t believe) and went back to work.  After about an hour it REALLY Started to hurt.  And Hurt.  And HURT!  My knee had swelled to the size of a cantaloupe and felt like I had a dozen knives stuck in to the hilt.  I decided it was time to go home; I needed to lie down.  So I shut down my computer, put away my paperwork and got up to walk to the elevator.

I never made it.

I took about two steps, and hit the floor out cold.  When I came too, a coworker had managed to get me into a chair, and had me laying back as far as I could.  I was bathed in a cold sweat.  I was nauseated.  My entire body was shivering uncontrollably from the pain in my leg.  I kept fading in and out of consciousness, but I knew there was a crowd of people standing around asking themselves what they should do.

The next thing I knew, the paramedics were there.  They took vital signs, and my blood pressure had dropped almost 50 points from that morning when I had been in the Doctor’s office.  My pulse was off the charts.  My body temperature was way below normal.  And just touching my leg brought out screams I didn’t even know I was capable of.

Surprising no one, they decided I needed to take a trip to the local Hospital Emergency Room.

As the paramedics were getting everything together, one of them asked me about what medications I was taking.  Hmmmmm… I wasn’t completely with it, but I knew I didn’t want to get into the psychiatric medications I’m on.  Not with my boss and coworkers around.  So I told them I was on blood pressure medications.  Period.

I don’t remember a lot about the ride in the ambulance, other than every bump and turn made me scream in agony.  You just cannot imagine how badly it hurt!

But we made it, and they got me settled into a bed in the ER.  The paramedics had given me something for pain, and laying still on a stable bed it was tolerable.  I was still sweating, and I could feel my heart racing, but at least I wasn’t wracked with pain.  I could hear the ER Doctor talking just outside my curtain, and he was ordering an MRI so they could really check out what was going on.  He came in to talk to me, and reviewed all the information I had given the paramedics.  Now was the time to come clean, and I told him about the Wellbutrin and Lamictal.

Wow.  Did things change.  Fast.

All of a sudden, the treatment plan changed.  He cancelled the MRI and just told the nurses to push some IV fluids and pain meds.  I lay there for about 4 hours, more or less totally ignored except for the nurses who came in periodically to make sure I was still breathing.  But even their attitude changed from concern to sympathy and tolerance.

I was just another mental case.

But the pain meds did help, and later that evening I was released to go home.  They immobilized my leg in a brace, put me back on crutches, and told me that if it wasn’t better in a day or two to go back to the Orthopedic Doctor for a follow up.

And out the door I went.  I didn’t even get a wheelchair ride to the door; just crutch your happy ass out of here.  Seriously.

Oh, I know that I was embarrassed to admit I was on psychiatric medications, and that I tend to be a bit sensitive about how it’s perceived.  But there is no doubt in my mind that the Doctors and Nurses immediately discounted my pain and decided I was having a mental episode.  No question whatsoever.

Now, as far as what really happened?  The paramedic conjectured that when the Dr. gave me the steroid shot he managed to hit a nerve, and inject the steroids directly into the nervous system.  (He also said that the way Doctors looked out for each other, that they would never say that).  The Doctor originally thought that either I had a reaction to the numbing agent that was used prior to the shot, or that I just reacted badly to the steroid itself.  My own opinion is that I have had a lot of steroids lately dealing with the rash I had (, and I think that this last shot was just one too many.  Of course, the nerve thing has some merit as well.  Whatever the cause, two days later as I’m writing this my knee is still twice the normal size and any movement or pressure on the knee is excruciating.   That can’t be mental, can it?

There is definitely a stigma that goes along with mental illness.  Even Doctors are susceptible to that kind of thinking unless specifically educated in that specialty.  And I’m sure that nurses (and Doctors) see their fair share of real mental crisis and can easily make the leap from a real medical emergency to ‘just another mental case’.  Lamictal has basically two uses; anti-epileptic and mood stabilizer.  I had no history of seizures, wasn’t on any other anti-epileptic medication, and I was taking an antidepressant.  It didn’t take a genius to figure out I was bipolar.  And bipolar people can’t be trusted; they’re just crazy.

There have been incredible strides in understanding and treating mental illness in the last 20 years.  Maybe in the 1940’s there really wasn’t enough information to separate physical from mental conditions, but this is 2014!  You’d think that especially doctors would have more understanding.

But they don’t.

The misconceptions and perceptions of people with mental illness really haven’t improved much at all.  We are ones to be feared.   Everything that happens can be explained by our perceived strangeness.  In fact, any strange behavior is immediately attributed to bipolar illness.  The strange guy at work?  He’s just being bipolar.  And It’s no wonder that her husband got caught cheating on her.  The way he’s always acted made me think he was crazy.  Bipolar even.

The media contributes a great deal to this too.  Just let some deranged lunatic start shooting people in a shopping mall, and the news immediately reports that the poor soul is bipolar.  I’ve seen this happen even before they have identified the shooter!  It’s nice that total strangers who haven’t a clue can make that kind of diagnoses…wish they had been around years ago to help with my diagnoses.  (I’m not defending or minimizing anyone who does such acts. I’m just making the point that kind of horrendous behavior does NOT make one bipolar.)

There’s even a new TV Drama about it; “Black Box”.  Supposedly it’s about as Genius Neurologist who is bipolar.  Each week she has some kind of ‘manic’ episode and does some really outrageous things.  But there are never any real consequences, and nobody even seems to notice.  And it never seems to get in the way of her brilliant neurology.  Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t bipolar people who are managing their jobs and keeping the illness secret.  Lord knows, I’m one of those.  But her manic episodes are so cliché, and she rarely displays any depression.  How exciting could a show be about depression?  But the sad part of that is, this kind of information is what the general public believes about mental illness.  Someone finds out I’m taking meds for bipolar disorder, and they expect me to start hearing voices and running around chasing non-existent butterflies.

There’s no shame in being bipolar, or having any mental illness.  The way so many people react to us, even the way Doctors treat us once they find out?

That’s the shame.  That’s a real shame.

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