Give or take

One of the things I’ve noticed about people is that some are givers and some are takers. And then there are those that are so caught up in their own lives that they are neither. Much like the extremes of being bipolar being either is not necessarily good or bad as long as it isn’t over the top.

I’ve lost another friend this week. Well, I’m using the term ‘friend’ loosely; I guess she never really was much of a friend after all.

For you see, she was a taker.

I don’t mind helping people at all; in fact, I enjoy it. And I regularly helped this lady quite a bit. She was very crafty, and she frequently asked me to give her a hand; mostly with lifting heavy things or giving advice on how to get things put together. She said she valued my sense of style (What the hell?) and asked my opinion on decorating her house and yard. When her car broke down, she called me to pick her up and take her home while she arranged for a tow truck. And I was more than happy to do what I could for her. After all, isn’t that what friends are for?   She had two big dogs, and one time she asked me to watch them while she was out of town. She had a regular dog sitter that she paid, but something came up last minute and she wasn’t able to do it. I like her dogs, and it was no problem even though it was 10 miles out of my way twice a day. The next time she went out of town, she asked me first. (She didn’t have to pay me, remember?) It was for a few more days this time, and she suggested I just stay at her house so I could spend more time with her dogs. Okay, this is starting to really interfere with my routine. Then she went home for a week at Christmas. This time, she didn’t even ask; she told me she was leaving and left me a detailed list of instructions on what I needed to do while she was gone. It wasn’t just watching her dogs, but she had several ‘projects’ that she wanted me to do; like clean her carpets! I let her know I wasn’t happy about it, but by the time she told me it was too late for her to line up anyone else. Oh, but after she was gone she called me and said that it wasn’t going to be for a week… she had a business trip the following week and it was going to be two weeks before she got home. That was completely over the top, and I was really feeling taken advantage of.

And when she got home, she barely even thanked me. She was more interested in my report on how her dogs did, and checking out how I had done with her projects.

In fact, for all the things I did for her I never really got any thanks. And she never helped me with anything or voluntarily did anything nice for me at all. Now, I didn’t do what I did just so she would do for me, but I do kind of expect that as a friend, she would at least show some appreciation.

So much for being a friend.

I’ve known people who were too much into taking care of others, almost always at their own expense. I dated a woman for a while who insisted on giving me a present every time we got together. Not like a card, or something simple; she gave big presents. Like the time she gave me a fifth of my favorite scotch, which is about $50 US. It was like that ever time even though I told her over and over not to. And the concerts she took me to! She bought tickets to see Diana Krall and BB King, which were well over $100 a seat! I tried to refuse, but she had already paid for the tickets and said they would just be wasted. It was very uncomfortable, and I let her know that her behavior was a problem for me. And she couldn’t or wouldn’t stop… So I had to stop it myself. I stopped seeing her.

Then there are the real extremes.

Another woman I knew built her entire life around doing things for others. She especially got involved when there was some major problem that she could jump in and take care of. Her need was so strong that when there was no one who needed her help she would create a crisis so that she would have someone, something that she could give herself to. Obviously there was no time to take care of herself, and even when she actually needed help she would refuse, like the time she had surgery and didn’t even tell anyone; she took care of herself.

I think maybe she was a bit co-dependent.

My Girlfriend’s ex-husband is the epitome of a taker. It’s not enough for him to just accept the attention of others, he demanded it. You did things his way, period. If he needed anything, you came no questions asked. His clothes had to be freshly ironed for him every morning, and they’d better be clean! Whatever he decided to wear that day had to be available. They were involved in the Shag Dancing club. Now, the Shag is a man’s dance, it’s designed to make him look good. Not only did he think he looked good, he would get angry when someone would remark about how good she danced. But his need for attention really crossed the line. He had multiple affairs throughout their marriage, from one night stands to ongoing trysts. It was all about him and his satisfaction. Forget morality, respect or responsibility; he wanted what he wanted, and expected everyone to give it to him.

I did mention he was her ex-husband, right?

That’s one of the reasons I like this woman so much. She hasn’t ever had anyone who cared enough to do things for her. It was hard for her to accept any help, especially in the beginning. She was used to doing everything by herself she was uncomfortable having anyone else do for her. Over time, she has learned to accept help. And she’s always very appreciative. She is a giver herself, especially now that she has become more accustomed to being in a new relationship. We give to each other, from the silly little things to more significant help. She puts encouraging notes in my lunch bag; I leave romantic notes for her to find in her home. She gives me romantic cards; I send her flowers. If she cooks dinner, I clean and vice versa. I’ve repaired broken equipment in her house and she’s helped me paint mine. Whenever I’m having a bad time, she’s there for me. And I’ve been there for her.

That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? It’s all about balance. Not too much, not too little, but shared equally. That’s true with pretty much everyone, isn’t it? And that’s true when it comes to managing my bipolar disorder too. It’s my goal to balance the mood swings, with not too much of an extreme on either end. It’s okay to be excited about something, just like it is okay to be sad. The key is to be appropriate for the circumstance. And, just like relationships, I’m happiest when I can give to others while continuing to take care of myself.

Whether in a relationship, with friends or managing my disease I’m not always successful. There have certainly been times when I’ve taken way more than I should have; selfishly accepting without giving back. And there are times that I’ve given too much at my own expense. I won’t even talk about keeping the moods in balance, or taking care of myself. Most of my life has been out of control with that.

But one way I do try to keep things where they need to be is to surround myself with others who have that healthy balance. It’s so much easier for me to feel healthy when I’m around people who help when needed and accept when they need help. Yes, I’ve lost a lot of friends over the past year or so, some that have been significant at various points in my life. And while friendships aren’t about what they can do for me, I believe that if they are truly your friend they will do for you just as you will for them. Even my therapist says that I haven’t lost friends; I’ve eliminated barriers to my recovery. I don’t want to be overly selfish, nor do I want to be taken advantage of.   I am just looking for balance.

Give or take.

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Ticking… ticking.

Music is the window into the soul…

How true is that?  I’ve often heard people speak of how the music they grew up with has influenced their lives.  For me however, it’s quite the opposite.  I listened to and identified with songs that expressed my feelings, not the ones that affected them.

And I have to admit; it wasn’t pretty.

I grew up in the 1960’s, and reached adulthood in the 1970’s.  The music of the 60’s was more about social change directly or indirectly.  Pete Seeger, Alro Guthrie, Bob Dylan, The Band, The Grateful Dead; they all covered the evolving world.  Even acts like Sonny and Cher were different; never before had there been such openness about relationships.

But the music of the 70’s; Ah yes, the 70’s.

I went from puberty to young adulthood in the 1970’s.  Even from a rather early age, my self image and melancholy feelings drove my choice of music.  And at the time, there was so much being produced that matched my moods so well.

Generally, the beach is a happy place of family vacations and fun. Things that I remember early in my teens were sitting on the boardwalk overlooking the ocean singing the Beatles “Nowhere Man” to myself.  That was a perfect description of how I saw myself; all those around me were playing, making new friends, and having quality time with their family.

I hadn’t even turned 13, yet I just felt so alone sitting there watching it all.

Another artist that captured my youth so well was Janice Ian.  “At Seventeen” as a perfect expression of my life at the time.

“To those of us who knew the pain, of valentines that never came.  And those whose names were never called when choosing sides for basketball.  Wow; that was my life.  “The valentines I never knew, The Friday night charades of youth, Were spent on ones more beautiful…”

At seventeen I learned the truth.

Elton John and Bernie Taupin were absolute genius when it came to describing my life.  Sure, most of their tunes were upbeat and fun.  But there was a dark side too.  “Madman across the water”; hardly a happy story.  “We’ll come again next Thursday afternoon, the in-laws hope they’ll see you very soon.  But is it in your conscience that you’re after…Another glimpse of the madman across the water”.   To me that spoke of trying to hide the madness within, failing and being institutionalized.  Maybe that’s not what they intended, but that’s how I heard it.  The epitome however was “Ticking”.  What a scary song, yet appropriate.

“’An extremely quiet child’ they called you in your school report.  He’s always taken interest in the subjects that he’s taught.  So what was it that brought the squad car screaming up your drive.  To notify your parents of the manner in which you died.” 

The misery I felt at even an early age often ended in fantasies of suicide and death.  I fully expected that someday that squad car would be pulling up the drive.

“Some gook said ‘His brain just snapped’, Then someone called the police”  

Yes, that was me.  Always on the edge, just waiting for that moment when I’d had enough.  There was nothing specific, but a vague feeling that I could easily lose control and the anger inside would spill over.  Today I would call that a manic rage.

“And his parents never thought of him as their troubled son”

Maybe my parents knew of my struggles, and maybe they didn’t.  Frankly, I had such little connection with them at that time I don’t know just how much they realized.  In fairness, it could have been my own self isolation that I felt so removed, but regardless, I felt abandoned to misery.

“’Now you’ll never get to Heaven’ Mama said.  Remember Mama said, Ticking, ticking.  Grow up straight and true blue, run along to bed.  Hear it, hear it, ticking ticking”

The expectation of my parents and society in general just added to my angst and anger.  I can’t grow up normally; I’m not normal!  I had no idea what was wrong, but something definitely was.

“Ticking, ticking”

“Oh your childhood cried out in your head ‘they mean to do you harm’”

How did they know?  How could they possibly know?  But they did.

The overt story of this song is about a young man who goes berserk and starts killing people.  And no, I never had that feeling, and wasn’t capable of fathoming such a monstrous act.  I never, EVER had any thoughts of hurting anyone besides myself.  Just the thought of it is horrendous.  I certainly don’t condone it, or even understand it.  What I identified with was the pain, the isolation and loneliness that I felt in the song.

There was happy music of the time of course.  I’d sing along with The Three Dog Night “Joy to the World” when it came on my transistor radio (Remember those?)  I even had the idea that they played the same songs at the same time every day, and would make sure my radio was on when I expected it to come on the air.  Even those upbeat songs however could reach down to my sadness.  Captain and Tennille thought that “Love would keep us together”  but that wasn’t something I could identify with at all; I just felt like everyone else could find love, but not me.  Besides, the radio played that one to death, and eventually I wanted to scream when it was played.

That time was so very long ago, and I’m in a much better place now.  I’ve had a lifetime of mental illness and periods of insanity.  I’ve also had a lifetime of learning, and accepting my condition and the appropriate treatment.  Back then though, I was at an age where it was impossible to know why I felt like I did, or even realize that there was something truly wrong with the way my brain worked.  I just felt like nobody liked me, leaving me with a very low opinion of myself and a sense that I wasn’t worth being liked.

I’ve always been very musical from playing many different instruments and publicly singing to loving the music of others.  It’s definitely been an integral part of my entire life; an expression of who I am, however much that’s changed over the years.  The taste of genres and artists has been tied directly into my mood, up or down.  And yet, no matter how well I’m doing or how far I’ve come in my treatment, there’s always going to be that boy; that young man inside who is so very sad and wounded.

“’You’ve slept too long in silence’, Mama said.  Remember Mama said, ticking ticking.  ‘Crazy boy you’ll only wind up with strange notions in your head’.  Hear it…Hear it.

Ticking, ticking… 

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It’s coming… weather I’m ready or not.

I love summer.

No, I need summer. The weather in the South Eastern United States is not that different from Florida. It’s hot and humid from July until mid-September. It’s not usual to go 30 days in a row at least 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and I remember many years where it doesn’t get below 90 degrees the entire month of August. Growing up we didn’t have air conditioning either. Sure, it was hot, but we were used to it and it wasn’t that bad. There was a big window fan that would pull the ‘cooler’ air in at night, and it was quite tolerable.

I love it.

The best part of this time of year is the sunshine. Afternoon Thunderstorms are regular, but they come and go rather quickly. The rest of the time it’s bright and cheerful. My mood always improves in the spring, anticipating the long days with warmth and sun. I spend as much time as possible outside too. I know it’s risky to be exposed that much, and I’ve certainly had more than my share of bad sunburns, but I really don’t care. Thankfully sunscreens have become very effective so I don’t burn (as often anyway). Summer is the time I recharge, and what carries me thought our gray, wet winters.

So what the hell has happened to summer this year?

We’ve had a record amount of rain this year. Where normally it’s unusual to have two days of rain in a row, this summer it’s been the sunny days that are the exception. It’s been cool as well.   We’ve only had a handful of days that have been over 90 degrees, and it’s been dropping down into the low 60’s at night. It feels like we’ve skipped summer altogether and just had a long fall.

It’s killing me!

Out winter last year was exceptionally wet and gray. So to go from that into this weather has me struggling. I’ve done so well for the last couple of years, but this is really pushing my limits. And now we’re really approaching fall. Another month and I can forget about any significant warm weather.

It’s not just the heat and sun though. It seems like most of my worst experiences in my life have been between October and January. There has so much death. It seems like with the exception of my Mother (Who passed in August) it seems like every significant family member has gone during the winter. Most of my significant relationships have ended then too. My last two both ended in early September, and they are still fresh in my mind. I’ve gotten over them, but it still brings back feelings of sadness.

I’m really starting to struggle with my mood. Everything is going great. I’ve been hired as a full time employee at my job, I (finally) have medical insurance, I have a great relationship, and with my new insurance I’ve been able to follow up on health issues I need to monitor, and (so far) they’ve all been fine. There is no reason at all to be down.

And yet, I am. And it’s pissing me off.

I absolutely cannot keep going through these cycles. The more I’ve learned about the illness and myself, the more difficult it has become to face. Bipolar Personality Disorder is supposed to get better with age, and I suppose in a way it has for me. Where it has gotten worse however is in my reaction to impending and extreme moods. I really know what’s coming, and I’m almost powerless to stop it. Two years ago it almost killed me the last week in August. Not on purpose, but I was so miserable I took medication I had to help me sleep. I just needed to ‘check out’ for a little while and stop thinking. But I lost track of time and how much I had taken, and ended up with a near fatal overdose. (See: Anatomy of a Suicide) I’m not suicidal now; far from it. But I have caught myself thinking about it more. Not really about myself, but just in general. Robin Williams recent death hit me particularity hard. Just another example of no matter how good things are, no matter how much success, not even millions of adoring fans depression can take it all away. (Just as an aside: I wonder if Robin was bipolar? You can certainly make a solid case for it…)

So far, I’ve been able to draw on my coping skills fairly well, and am managing to at least maintain.  Deep breathing, self relaxation, mindfulness, visualization; I’m using whatever I can to keep on top of things. Just staying focused on my mood and being aware of where I am is helpful in keeping me going. I’ve increased my dosage of my antidepressant. If that isn’t enough, I will continue to go up as high as I need to. My girlfriend has been a big help too. She’s always so positive and upbeat. I am committed to keeping up the appearance that all is well. Not in a deceitful or fake way, but by forcing myself to be up, I find that I do get to feeling better. Therapy is kind of a mixed bag when it comes to coping. My therapist is really good at helping me work though things, but for that hour every week, I’m way too focused on the negative. Facing this coming depression head on actually pushes me farther in. Just the fact that I’m headed down again is depressing. It’s the start of a bad cycle.

But Lord knows, I’ve been here before.

Yes, it’s depressing to see the pattern start to repeat. But I also have the knowledge that it can be broken. I’ve been there too, and have managed to pull myself up before completely losing control. So I know that this doesn’t have to happen. I’m better equipped to combat this change than I’ve ever been. This battle hasn’t been won by a long shot. Every day is a challenge, and some days are better than others. But I refuse to give up. There is just too much at stake. Yes, the fall is coming. Yes, it’s the beginning of my ‘bad’ season. Yes, the memories and feelings are creeping back in. And yes, I’m struggling each and every day.

But no, I’m not going to quit trying. I can beat this.

I have to.

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Enough is enough

I’ve finally had it.  I’ve worked as hard as I can.  I tried my best.  I’ve given everything I can give.  And it’s just not enough.

This is absolutely breaking my heart.  But I have come to the decision that the marriage I have so believed in is over.  I just can’t take any more of the lies, the moodiness, and the anger.  My finances are in a total disaster; it’s going to take years to recover.  And if I stay, I’ll never recover.  My health has deteriorated, and I’m questioning my own sanity.

There are times I fear for my life.

What’s so hard about this is how good it was in the beginning.  She had really swept me off my feet from the moment we met.  She was a beautiful woman, with a gorgeous face and incredibly sexy body.  Her beauty wasn’t just physical either; her personality was completely compelling. Her compassion and patience with others was almost saint like.  I first saw her when I was at a friend’s party; she was off by herself, drink in hand, contemplating the other party goers with an amused look.  I couldn’t help but approach her, and within minutes we were talking and laughing like we’d known each other for years.  There was an immediate sense of shared adventure and connection.  We went out together two days later, and within a month were together every single night.

I moved in with her six months later.

There was just something special.  Just being around her made me feel so much better about myself.  She didn’t just bring out the goodness in me; she helped me find goodness I didn’t even know I had.  We were inseparable.  And it was so easy to be together.  We enjoyed all the same things; going to the beach, classic rock music, Film Noir, and dancing.  Oh, how we danced!

How can you not fall in love?

Even though the relationship burst into flames so quickly, I was hesitant to commit to marriage.  I’d just gotten out of a failed marriage, and did not want to take that chance again until I was completely sure.  So even though we were living together, there was no talk of marriage.

That didn’t happen for three years.  But by then, I was convinced, and tied the knot.

It didn’t take long before the cracks started showing.  It was just simple things at first… angry outbursts for no apparent reasons; overly ambitious plans for vacations; unbridled enthusiasm over the strangest projects.  But it was hard not to get caught up in it all, she was just so engaging and full of life.  We were having a ball!

Then she lost her job.  It wasn’t her fault of course; she had been targeted by a manager who was intimidated by her intelligence.  That was certainly believable; she was one of the smartest people I’d ever met.  Money was tight, but we muddled along.  I would leave for work every morning while she poured over the job postings and sent out resumes.  She would still be looking when I got home too.  But no offers came.  The longer she was home alone during the day, the more noticeable the change in her mood.  She would obsess over the simplest thing.  She once spent a week (And who knows how much gas) driving around from store to store, looking for a snowman dish towel that she remembered from her youth.  She was convinced that she could still buy one, and covered all the nearby towns in her search.

It was really kind of bizarre.

There were other signs of problems now.  Suddenly there was a whole tray of medications that she was taking.  I didn’t even know that there had been Doctor Appointments, but she kept coming home with new prescriptions until she was taking 15 or 20 pills a day!  Some of them were obviously psychiatric like antidepressants and tranquilizers. And that’s understandable; being unemployed can certainly be depressing.     But there were other meds that just didn’t seem to make sense.  She had never said anything about being epileptic, but now she was on three different antiepileptics treatments.

Then it got really strange.

Leaving for work one morning there was a horrible smell in the car.  There was no old food or any obvious source for the stench, but it was just unbearable.  Finally checking the trunk, there were 8 or 9 dead animal carcasses that appeared to be road kill.  When I confronted her she admitted that she had driven around and picked them up.   The poor things deserved a proper burial; she just hadn’t had time to take care of it yet.

The bills started to pile up.  My credit card went from almost paid off to maxed out in a week.  I had no idea until I went to use the card to purchase gas, and it was denied.  Checking the statement I couldn’t believe that she had bought a Tag Hauer watch!  And where was she planning to wear $6,000 of new clothes!?! Then I started getting calls from credit cards that I didn’t even know we had.

Then she crashed.

It literally happened overnight.  She was her ‘normal’ bubbly self when we went to bed, and the next morning she couldn’t stop crying.  The tears continued on for a couple of weeks with her getting lower and lower, until she was completely immobilized.  All she would do is sit in a dark room and stare at nothing.  Any attempts to talk to her ended up in her exploding in anger, screaming at me how I couldn’t possibly understand.  I began dreading coming home at night, afraid that I would find her dead.

I finally convinced her to let me take her to the hospital.  What an eye opener that was!  It turns out that this wasn’t her first admission.  Going through her history with the Doctor I found out that she had been in mental hospitals 6 or 7 times before, and been diagnosed as Bipolar since her early 20’s.  I had no idea!

And that was just the first year.

I managed to hold it together for the next 10 years.  There were some good times for sure.  There were months at a time where she was completely symptom free and she was the woman I fell in love with.  But mostly we dealt with the cycles.  And as time went on, they continued to get more and more extreme.  There were several suicide attempts, one putting her in ICU for over a week.  She went through 5 jobs in as many years, and we finally gave up even trying to keep her working.  The manias were really bad.  There were wrecked cars, holes in the wall, half finished projects everywhere and an unbelievable amount of debt.  It didn’t matter what I did, she would find ways to spend money we didn’t have.  She would scream at me hysterically and throw whatever she could reach that would break.

There were times I’d wake up in the middle of the night with her just standing over me.  Watching…waiting.  It scared the hell out of me.

The final straw was when she attacked a boy at the Mall.  Some random 8 year old that she perceived as being disrespectful to his Mom.  She had picked him up off the ground and was shaking him back and forth, spittle flying in his face as she screamed.  She grabbed the front of his shirt so hard that the fabric actually tore.  The law was called and she was arrested for assault.

And that was it.

There is no question that I love her. I know that underneath the illness there is still a beautiful, incredible woman.  There are still glimpses of that woman, but only through the ugliness of her behaviors.  I have tried so hard to help her.  We have joined support groups together, had joint counseling, and I’ve even had my own therapist to help me learn how to deal with her.  For the longest time she denied that there was anything wrong with her, but even after she admitted that she was sick she just couldn’t get things under control.  That’s one of the hardest things… she knows that she is killing us, but just can’t manage to stop.

I do not wish her any ill will.  I can no longer live with her, but I will always love her.  My only hope is that she somehow finds a way to get the help she needs and finally be able to have a peaceful life.  I can’t do it for her, and I just can’t be responsible anymore.

I am gone.

…..

No, this is not my life.  The bipolar behaviors are drawn from many experiences I have had or seen.  And the struggles of the bipolar spouse based on anecdotes as well.  I have of course written about what it’s like on the other side of a bipolar relationship, sharing my perspective and feelings.  And that perspective has changed a great deal over the last number of years.  When my last marriage ended I was very bitter and hurt.  I had just found out what was really wrong, and hadn’t had a chance to try to get better.  How could she leave me now?  Time, healing and acceptance has changed those feelings however, and I can at least try to see the other side.  Not all bipolar relationships are the same.  I know couples who have not only survived but have actually flourished with a bipolar partner.  This story is worse than some people experience, and others have lived through so much more.  Everybody has a story, and no two stories end the same.

I started this exercise because of all the comments and emails I continue to get on earlier posts about bipolar relationships.  While I admit there’s no way I can truly understand, I wanted to at least try to put myself in the other position.  I don’t think it appropriate for me to publicly respond to all the different comments I receive so I thought I’d try and tell the story from a different point of view.  There is no right or wrong.  There’s really no blame to be given.  It’s about life, and how we deal with what we’ve been given.  And you know what?

Sometimes you just have to go.

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I have to wonder…

I’ve had a mental illness since the day I was born.  And I’ll have it when I die.  I am bipolar.  I know that officially, onset is generally in the late teens or early twenties.  There is some truth to that I think.  I suppose that the first documented episode probably doesn’t happen until you approach adulthood.  But I can tell you, it’s not something that just happens at a certain time in life.  You don’t just wake up one morning and find you are mentally ill.  No, I believe it’s just something you’re born with.

I’ve pondered before about had difficult it was growing up.  Initially, I didn’t really realize that I was different, but as I became more aware of my surroundings and my interactions with others, I knew that something wasn’t right.  I may not have been having major depressive episodes, or been in a full blown mania, but even then my moods were more extreme than my peers.  Especially depression; I remember being sad almost all the time. Now, for over 50 years, I’ve had this illness that has been a part of my life.

I wonder: what’s it like to not live with a mental illness?

Sometimes it’s more evident than others.  Other times it’s almost possible to forget about it.  When I’m in the very depths of a depression or high as a kite with mania, I don’t really think about having an illness at all.  The intensity of the mood completely overwhelms the awareness of the cause.  It’s when I’m coming out of one of the extremes that I think I’m most aware.  The memory of the episode is fresh, and I hate my disease for causing so much pain.  I believe that’s why most suicides occur either just before or just after an episode; primarily depression.  When it’s really bad, for me anyway I just done have the energy to make any decision, much less a life or death one.  It’s when I know it’s coming, or I can be aware of just how bad it’s been is when I’m most likely to take that step.

It’s not always that way though.  Prior to my diagnoses I would have long periods of time where I felt normal.  I wasn’t of course, but being in complete denial I just didn’t know that my behaviors weren’t like everyone else.  Even when I went through a bad time, I just believed that it was just that; a bad time.  There was always an excuse to justify my actions, or the way that I felt.  Since I accepted my illness though, what was driving my personality and behaviors became obvious.   Now I knew.  What controlled my life became front and center.

I’ve been doing really well for some time now.  It’s been almost two years since my last episode, and even my mood swings have become very appropriate.  There are long periods of time where I don’t even think about being bipolar.  When I’m out with friends, at work, or spending time with my girlfriend I am just living.  Since my behaviors are not so extreme anymore, I’m just ‘one of the guys’.  I feel normal.  Typically though when I’m alone is when I remember; I’m mentally ill.  And I think that even when I’m in that normal stage, in the back of my mind it’s always there.  I’m constantly monitoring my moods and my reactions and interactions; looking for signs or warnings that I’m losing control.  I actively use relaxation skills and other coping mechanisms t hat I’ve learned in therapy on a daily basis.  I get upset at work?  I sit back, breathe deeply, and visualize my happy place.  Likewise when the stress gets overwhelming or there’s too much pressure.  I step away from the situation and focus on the goodness, and everything around me; the taste of the apple I’m eating; the warmth of my coffee cup; all the sounds and sights of my surroundings.  Then I can go back to whatever I’m doing with renewed energy and attitude.  No, that’s not because I’m bipolar, but it’s a byproduct of living with it.  Even as an abstract, the illness is impacting my day to day living.

Bipolar Personality Disorder is a lifelong illness, and there is no cure.  Through proper medication and therapy it can be managed, and there are times where it doesn’t seem to be a problem at all..  But it never really goes away.  Whether or not I was cognizant of why I do the things I do, this illness has ruled every aspect of my life.  I know that I’m not alone, and bipolar personality disorder isn’t even near the top of the list of life altering conditions.  But it’s at the top of my list and has created the man I am, for better or worse.   Yes, there are people born blind or deaf.  Poverty can create a living environment that can be incomprehensible to others more fortunate.  Other illness such as Multiple Sclerosis or Epilepsy can completely alter a life in ways that can’t be fathomed.  But normal is the vast majority statistically.  In a mental hospital, it’s normal to be crazy.  But in the world normal are just people dealing with the common everyday.  There are mortgages and rent to pay, difficulties with work, family crisis, marriages and divorces, and death.  These are things we all deal with just being humans.  I deal with all that as well, just like everybody else has to.  But this disease I was born with changes and shape all these things and make them not normal.  Not knowing what it’s like to live without being bipolar I can only imagine what it’s like to live without it.  I’ve learned to live with all the ups and downs, avoid getting involved in situations that will hurt others, and become very adept at cleaning up messes I create.  My goal has been to be normal.  Being bipolar is my normal.

And I can live with that.

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A world connected

Cell Phones.  Internet. GPS. 900 Television channels and 24 hour news shows.  Facebook, Instagram and twitter.  We are inundated with noise, information, and visibility into everything we do.  Nothing happens anywhere in the world where we don’t instantly have the latest news being blared at us from so many talking heads and pundits.  We’re told what we should wear, how we should look, what we should eat, even how many times we should be going to the rest room.  Not only are we told how to have sex, but there are 1,000’s of porn sites to show us how it’s done in hideously graphic detail.  We are expected to have the latest and greatest technology.  The iPhone 5 is out?  Well, that $600.00 IPhone 4 you just bought 8 months ago is so passé now.  How embarrassing to be seen with one.

George Orwell would be flabbergasted.

Like so many of us, I had to study ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ in high school.  It was published by George Orwell in 1949 and portrayed a world dominated by ‘Big Brother’, this quasi-divine and perhaps mythical Party leader of English Socialism.  This was a world of constant surveillance, where even private thoughts that didn’t completely follow party lines were a crime.  When I was in high school, 1984 was still in the future, and it seemed farfetched, almost silly to think that a two-way ‘Telescreen’ could actually see into our homes, watching our every move for some betraying thought or action.  It seemed ridiculous that the masses could be fed such obvious propaganda and swallow it whole.

And yet, here we are – and then some.

The technology boom of the last 50 years boggles the mind.  Cell phones were the stuff of science fiction; Dick Tracey two-way wrist watches or Maxwell Smart shoes.  I remember reading about a pill that, taken once a day fulfilled all nutritional needs eliminating the need to waste time actually preparing and eating meals.  Of course, now in only 3 minutes I can have a ‘Healthy Choice’ frozen dinner, eaten straight out of the packaging.  I can go from hungry to cleaning up the dinner fork in 5 minutes or less.  Yes, I said dinner fork.  No dirty pans to be washed, no kitchen to be cleaned.  Air Conditioning was only for the wealthy, and not even considered to be installed in a car.  Cable TV?  We didn’t even have a color TV until I was in my teens.  And when Cable did come out nobody believed it would ever catch on.  Why on earth would you pay for TV when there were three perfectly good channels you could get for free?  Two good channels anyway.  The third one would only come in when the wind was blowing just right, or you were lucky enough to have the rabbit ears (complete with aluminum foil) placed just right.  There were no FM radio stations, except for one classical station that could sometimes be picked up.  And the atom bomb was still new enough that we had air raid drills the first Wednesday of the month, when the sirens would go off at noon, we’d assume the position under our school desks and sit terrified for 6 or 7 minutes until the ‘all clear’ signal was heard.  The cold war was real, and atomic annihilation was not only a possibility, but a probability.  The Doomsday clock was under 5 minutes.  (Look it up kids).

Yet technology continued to develop, and we embraced it.

I have to wonder though, is this advancement of electronics really such a good thing?  There is practically no need for imagination anymore.  Kids have video games, that keep them indoors and sedentary.  It’s no wonder obesity is becoming such a problem with our youth.  (And adults too…)  As a kid we were always outside, hiking through the woods, riding our bikes everywhere, creating our own fun.  Today’s kids are glued to the TV, which has now become bigger than life.  I think the proliferation and easy availability of porn has contributed to an increase of bisexuality and alternate lifestyles.  Sex is so in your face now.  Men who used to never see other men naked, now can watch other men in all kinds of sexual acts.  The same is true for women.  True, there has always been bisexuality, but I think it’s happening more than ever.  Our expectation of sexuality has changed too.  It’s no longer enough to have simple loving making; now it has to be adventurous and kinky.  We want it to be just like we’re watching on the internet and television.  Facebook and other social media allow us to connect with others and give all kinds of opportunities do develop virtual relationships; virtual relationships that all too often become real.

Connections; we have become way too connected.

I have found myself becoming very anxious whenever I can’t get in touch with someone.  I text a lot, and have come to expect an instant reply.  And if that doesn’t happen I get stressed out; worrying about all kinds of problems.  Is there something wrong?  Are they in trouble?  Have they just lost interest in chatting?  That’s especially true with my girlfriend.  I want to be able to get in touch with her at any time, and when I don’t it almost pisses me off.  Where the hell is she, and what is she doing?  And who is she doing it with?

And that’s not right.

As someone who is bipolar, I think that these advancements just make it harder with my mood swings.  Sure, there’s always been the feeling isolation when I was alone.  But being cut off from such a connected world makes it worse.  Nobody is texting me.  I’m not getting called on my cell phone.  I don’t even have to leave my house to see how much fun the rest of the world is having (real or not) and during a manic episode it’s way too easy to share that mood with others.  I can text anyone at any time, email manifestos to everyone I know, and expose my illness to the world through social media.

And I’ve done that, and more.

There is definitely goodness to the changes we’ve seen.  We have access to more information than ever before.  We can research anything we’re interested in day or night.  I’m surprised that libraries are even still around, and wonder how much longer they will be.  There’s not much need for them with Kindle’s and iPad.  And who goes to the library for research anymore.  That is only done by a few diehards that enjoy the feel of real books.  Newspapers are also a thing of the past.  By the time a paper can be printed, it’s old news.  We’ve already seen in on CNN.

It’s been 30 years since 1984, and 65 years since the book was published.  Today’s generation cannot fathom how frightening and unreal the world invented by Orwell.  It might not be the totalitarian control of the evil government or the horrors of ‘Room 101’.  But we do live a life so exposed, so public, and so monitored that you can almost believe that it is.  I can’t recall who it’s credited to (Google, here I come!) but I remember the quote “When man interacts more with machines than each other, society is doomed.”   It really makes me wonder the world in thirty years from now.

And it scares the hell out of me.

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The secret life

The stigma of being bipolar lays on you like a wet blanket. No, make that 1,000 wet blankets. Society has such a skewed view of the illness, and is quick to judge and condemn. The media has a lot to do with that. There are TV shows that portray the mentally ill as flat out crazy and downright dangerous. So many times when there’s a tragic news event it’s immediately reported that the perpetrator is bipolar; they must be, right? We all know that people who are bipolar are insane.

To a certain degree, we are a bit crazy. Especially when compared to ‘normal’ people. Behaviors can be completely out of control; from wild spending sprees to aluminum foil hats to keep aliens from reading our thoughts and everything in between. Or we can be so deep in the darkest of depressions that we completely disappear. We all fall somewhere in that range at one point or another. That’s what makes us bipolar. But not crazy in the sense that the world tends to see us.

It makes you want to run and hide, doesn’t it?

I have a friend who discovered this when he got married a few years ago. They were initially going out with other friends, but the more time they spent together the closer they became. In time they fell hopelessly in love. We all had a great time going out to dinner, hanging out at each other’s houses, even taking trips together. Unlike what seems to be the norm these days, they didn’t move in with each other before the marriage. The night of the wedding we all know that something was not right. The bride was not acting herself at all. Most brides are a bit ‘difficult’ with their weddings, the so called bridzillas. She was over the top however. You could hear her screaming from the back about how bad she looked in her dress. She practically ran down the aisle. And at the reception the way she danced was actually painful to watch. Apparently it got even worse from there after she moved in with my friend. He didn’t talk about it at first, but as time went on he confessed that they were really having a hard time. He was shocked at the amount of medication she was taking. His bank account was badly drained by her frenetic shopping. The final straw came quickly when she lashed out at his son from a previous marriage, and grabbed his shirt so hard that it tore. That was it. Why did it fall apart so quickly? She seemed so normal prior to the wedding. I think that the way was able to maintain her appearance of normalcy is because she had a place away from the world where she could be crazy.

And with the marriage, she had nowhere she could hide.

Boy do I know what that’s like.

For the longest time I had no idea what I was dealing with. I knew I had problems, after all, I had been hospitalized many times starting in my 20’s. But it was 30 years later when I finally knew why. My second wife knew I was unbalanced; we did meet in a mental hospital after all. In fact, there were times she said she thought I was bipolar, but I’d always dismiss it. But I had a place where I didn’t have to keep things under wraps. That changed though after we were divorced.  At the time I was in a fairly stable place. I believed that the source of my difficulties was my wife; she did have her own kind of crazy going on. Once free from that influence I thought that I could live my normal life. And for the most part, I did. But there were always secrets. I might not have been acting out, but the thoughts were there, and there were some behaviors that weren’t appropriate. I was able to keep them away in my safe place and nobody had a clue. I eventually got out of control, and my third marriage ended badly. Even then however I could blame my ex for my outrageousness.

And again, I had my secret place.

Wife number four started out like a fairy tale. We dated for years, but moved in together after only 7 or 8 months. I was unemployed at the time, and still had my private time while she was at work, and the craziness was contained into time alone. Eventually though, I found a job and went back to work. Now I couldn’t indulge in my illness and had to be ‘on’ all the time. I still had no idea what I was dealing with, nor even realize that I was suppressing my illness. But things began to get out of hand. I couldn’t keep the swings under wraps anymore. And my life started going to hell.

You can’t really hide either kind of episode when they happen. And had I gone through a really severe one during that time it would not have been controllable. It’s a lot easier to maintain appearances when it’s only for a short time each day. My depressions weren’t so bad that I couldn’t pull it together for a few hours after work and on the weekends. It was a little harder to manage the mania, but even then it wasn’t so bad that it couldn’t have been attributed to just high enthusiasm. When I had to constantly keep it together all the time, it was like being in a stopped up pressure cooker. Sooner or later I had to blow.

I had no place left to hide.

Even now that I’ve seemingly found the right combination of medications and therapy and am truly managing my illness, I still need that time alone. It’s not that I’m doing anything different, and I’m not forcing ‘good’ behavior when I’m in the world. But I’m still bipolar, and have to be able to embrace that. I don’t even think about it when I’m others. It’s like I don’t even have the illness. Life is just normal. I have to be careful however to take that time to check in with myself and make sure that I’m not missing any signs or acting out without realizing it. I’m in a pretty serious relationship now, but I know that I should always keep a way that I have time to be bipolar. Fortunately, for reasons of her own she agrees that she doesn’t want to get married (Not that we’re at that point), and she wants to maintain a way to pursue her own quiet time. And if that changes, we’ll just have to make a plan where we can continue to have that for ourselves.

I think that there are very few people who are bipolar that wants the world to know. It’s so difficult for others to understand, and judgments can be quick and harsh. Would a boss understand? And would a potential employer even make that offer if they knew? It’s highly unlikely. What about your friends, and even some family members? Is the illness something that you will be comfortable sharing? I don’t think the disease should be ignored or that you pretend to be someone you’re not. But I do think that there needs to be a way to allow yourself a little bipolar space. I know I need to have that balance, and a way to keep in touch with my illness.   With hard work, good support and effective medication the bipolar aspects of my life are very small and well maintained. But no matter how well I get, I’ll still be bipolar.

I’ll still have that secret life.

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A world of our own.

You just don’t get it, do you?

Of course you don’t. Not unless you’re bipolar. Unless it’s something you’ve lived through, it’s just not something that can be grasped. Much like a man has no clue what it’s like to be pregnant or a child can get what it means to be an adult, it’s something that has to be experienced.

I guess that’s why we have a tendency to stick together.

We seem to find each other, and create ways to connect. Sometimes it’s deliberate. For years I attended a support group for depression and bipolar. It was shortly after my diagnoses and right after my ex-wife and I split up. I was just beginning to learn about my illness, and I found that being around others who had gone through, or were going through similar circumstances helpful and comforting. There were many members who had successfully learned to manage the disease, and that gave me hope. Others were struggling as much as I, and I didn’t feel so alone. And there were those who were in an even worse situation; I was thankful I didn’t have to go through what they were. But it was deeper than that. We could all relate to each other. Talking about manic episodes didn’t shock, and we could nod and say to ourselves; yep…been there, done that. There was no sympathy for a depression, it was empathy.   Even though everyone’s illness was unique and we all had different thresholds and coping mechanisms, we had one thing in common.

We all were suffering from mental illness.

One place where this was extremely evident was in hospitals. We were all in some form of acute stage. And the patients were in various stages of recovery; recently admitted, about to be released or in various stages in between. Every time I’ve been hospitalized (and there have been a lot of them) it’s been the same. We develop our own little community. Some of it is by design. When you have that many people in crisis crammed together in such limited space, there has to be some kind of order to the chaos. So there were rules pertaining to how to get along. There were mandatory morning meetings that put structure to the day and outlined the general treatment regimen. We even elected officers who were responsible for running the meetings or keeping order. It was a way to keep us all under control.

But it went beyond that.

Friendships were developed, and at the time they were true and real. Even in such a diverse mix of personalities there were a lot of similarities and compatibilities. Connections were made like to like. Affluent, comfortable, poor – rural, metropolitan or suburb – even different diagnoses would clump us together into our own little cliques. However, this created tension too; there were a lot of differences, and groups became competitive and judgmental. Plots were developed and conspiracies created to put others down or inflict problems. Accusations were made to the staff about some infraction or other. There was even sabotage; sneaking into someone else’s room and taking things that didn’t belong to them, or damaging items that were important.

But, by and large we took care of each other.

I remember one time where a gentleman was brought in sometime during the night that was very belligerent and angry. He didn’t think he should be there and resisted the whole inbound process. His estranged wife had him committed after he came to her house screaming and yelling, and attached her car; breaking out windows and pounding dents into the body with his bare hands. He was clearly out of control. But in his state of mind he was justified, and extremely pissed off that she had done this to him. They finally got him calmed down enough through reassurance and medication, and everyone went back to sleep. The next morning, he was confused and belligerent, and not even sure where he was. A group gathered around him, first listening to his story, then by talking him through what he could expect while he was there. We explained to him that he was going to have to be inpatient for at least 48 hours (a minimum for a domestic charge) and that the sooner he got with the program the sooner he could get out. It was supportive and caring from people who could truly empathize, and explain things from the same point of view as his. It was only four days before he get his act together and was released.

Often, more serious relationships develop. It is inevitable I suppose. We are together 24 hours a day with very little to do except talk to each other. It’s a very vulnerable time and I think we crave that intimacy.

It’s where I met my second wife.

Back in the 80’s hospitalizations were different. It wasn’t unusual to remain inpatient for 45 days or more, and it gave plenty of time for relationships to develop. The current length of time is now an average of six days, and it’s less likely that such a strong connection can be made. But when you have a month or more of those constant interactions allow strong attachment evolve.

These relationships and cliques are distraction as well. Being hospitalized can be intense, and it’s easy to shift focus from yourself to someone else. Instead of facing the demons that put you in such distress that energy is spent on either helping, or hating, or even infatuation with others. It is much less painful that way, even if it doesn’t really do much to resolve the real issues.

So what’s the point of all this?

No matter who we are or where we came from, I think we all want to be understood and accepted. Sometimes it’s easy to relate to each other. Even though being raised in the North or South might be different, the home life could be very similar, even if culturally different. Having grown up with an alcoholic parent might not be as easy to relate to, and it’s not uncommon for that person to end up with an alcoholic of their own for a mate. So in that regard, being bipolar isn’t all that different when it comes to being related to. But it still creates an environment where we look for others who get it, and who know what it’s like to live with this disease. There is comfort in numbers, and congregating together gives us each a sense of belonging and support. It’s good to know that you’re not alone. In many ways, it’s our own little world.

And only we can belong.

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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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