Bipolar Disorder, My Real Opinion

I’m jealous

I am not a jealous person. Really. Except when it comes to one thing.

I am jealous of those who don’t have anxiety. And I know you’re thinking “Well, everyone has something”.

Well, most people have a normal range of emotions (excuse my use of the word normal here). A range of emotions that includes feeling nervous, stressed, irritable and sad. But, I can almost guarantee you that most people do not experience emotions the way someone with bipolar disorder does. Or the way someone with a mood disorder/depression or an anxiety disorder does.

And that is why I am jealous. Because if you don’t experience anxiety or depression the way I do, or others like me, you don’t know the extent of what it’s really like. You can try to imagine what it is like but it is not the same thing. Us mental health advocates and mental illness “sufferers” (I hate that word because it isn’t all suffering, so let me change it to “experiencers”) try to describe the symptoms and feelings but words can’t do it justice.

Maybe you think I am being dramatic (which is actually something you should never say to someone with a mental illness FYI). I’m not. Maybe I seem bitter? I’m not. In many a blog post or Instagram post I have mentioned that I am not an optimist but I see myself a as a “realist”.

There are many things a person can be jealous about. Money. Love. Fame. Success. Careers. Family. Friends.

I don’t think I have met anyone who is jealous of my mental illness. Wouldn’t that be something if someone came up to me and said “OMG you’re so lucky. You have bipolar disorder!”. Yeah right. No one wants to have bipolar disorder. No one wants to have anxiety.

My husband and I were talking about growing older earlier today. He said he is afraid of growing older, but in a light-hearted way. I said I am, but I really am. I am terrified. It takes a lot out of me now to manage my illness. It takes a lot of strength to pull myself together daily and to keep my symptoms (mostly) at bay when I am at work five days a week. I am exhausted now, how will I manage when I am older?

What will life be like for me? Honestly, I don’t want to know. I’ve seen statistics about people with bipolar disorder having shortened life expectancies. The heightened risk for metabolic syndrome, diabetes, this and that. That doesn’t mean it will happen to me. That doesn’t mean better medications and treatments won’t be discovered. I know there is no cure.

I also know that believe it or not, this is a manageable illness. When you let your thoughts run wild, it seems impossible to fathom. There are two things I try to remember: 1) This is not my fault 2) I am not alone.

Sometimes I get caught up thinking about silly or stupid mistakes I have made. Chalk it up to hypomanic behaviour. I also want to mention that while hypomania is not as “severe” as mania, it is still very disruptive and destructive. I can seem like I am on a war path but I have learned some techniques along the way to stop myself from full blown self-destruction.

As my husband just said to me as I read him a draft of this, “It’s not an easy illness to have.  You have to modify and adapt as a partner and as a family“. Which is what he has learned to do and what we do as spouses.  Some days are not easy. Especially when I am irritable and agitated and want nothing to do with anyone, even him. I have learned to signal to him when I need space and try to do it as politely as possible because I know I can come off as brash when I don’t mean to.

Sometimes he asks me what he can do for me or how he can make it better. I may respond with “Get me a new brain”. He will tell me “You have a beautiful brain, don’t worry”

Maybe he is biased but I have to put some stock into it because I am the way I am for a reason. Maybe it doesn’t always make sense, but after all, who says everything in life has to make sense?

As Carrie Fisher once said:

“I’m very sane about how crazy I am.”

Bipolar Disorder, My Real Opinion

Do you feel like crying?

My husband asked me how my psychiatrist’s appointment was. I didn’t feel like talking about it. I felt it was easier to write it out instead. This is the result. I was hesitant to post this as a blog as it is so sensitive and personal but this is who I am and writing is part of my process.

She asks me, “how are you feeling?”. I say in my quiet, mouselike voice, “Okay…I guess”. I am clearly not. I am emotional.

“Do you feel like crying?” she asks me. I don’t answer.

I ask if I was hypomanic the last time I was seen, three weeks earlier. I am told I had described myself as “borderline hypomanic” when last seen. I had described being upset about putting our beloved dog down and being worried about how my Mom was handling that (I am very close to my Mom and often feel her emotions too).

I proceed to tell her about my “over-productivity” over the last few weekends involving cooking, baking, reorganizing and very little rest or relaxation.

She asks about my anxiety. I say I have been rather anxious. She asks if there was a particular reason. I ask if I have to have a reason to be anxious, to which she agrees, I don’t.

I describe the nausea and horrid anxiety I’ve been feeling, and my difficulties with food. She comments that I’ve lost weight. I realized earlier that day that my shirt and blazer were looser than previously noticed when I was getting dressed. I replied that I really had no appetite and lost weight unintentionally. I know what you’re thinking, “why is she complaining about losing weight” but you have to understand this means I am really unwell.

The nausea has been overpowering.

I thought I was being heroic by not taking Ativan for a couple of months and using Clonazepam very sparingly, only when I really couldn’t sleep.

I was trying to do this without benzodiazepines.

But she asks me if I had been using them and I said no, not really. She advises me it’s okay to do what I have to, to be able to sleep and calm down. She says to think about my mental peace, and how important that is because it is obvious (to her too) that I am not happy, I am not myself and I am feeling miserable (and that the weather doesn’t help).

I respond, “I don’t even know who myself is sometimes,” (truthfully, that is most of the time) and I was rather tearful.

Again, “Do you feel like crying?”

Yes. I start to but then I stop because I can compose myself so quickly it’s scary and I am already distracted by another thought.

I feel the hypomania fighting, clawing its way to the top. Trying to speak and take over the conversation because sad Melanie is being too quiet.

I describe how I was feeling so sad that morning but by lunchtime and certainly by the time my appointment came around, I had begun to feel hypomanic and chatty again.

I discuss how I become so frustrated because I know what is happening and I can’t stop it.

She commends me for being able to recognize all of this, which says a lot about me and while I “forget” who I am, to think about all the good things I am doing or still able to do. I am working consistently, I cook, I bake, I find ways to keep my brain busy. I even do extra work on the weekends to make extra money. Essentially – “you are high functioning”.

She asks what brings me joy or what do I do that I enjoy. All I come up with is that I would just love to have time to sit and read for pleasure. I love books. I want to just read. And write. As I wrote that, I am reminded of a C.S. Lewis quote,

“We read to know we are not alone”

She assures me it’s okay to take Ativan and Clonazepam as needed. I don’t have an addictive personality where I will abuse these medications. They are there when I need them.

I just feel like it’s somehow taking a step back but I know it isn’t because in order for me to take a step forward, I have to be able to tolerate/survive the present and get my symptoms under control.

Sometimes we have to rely on those tiny pills (or “emergency pills” as I initially called them in early years) more than we want to, to bridge the gap between anxiety and “stability” or as I call it, my “baseline” (which is really a low-level anxiety that is manageable but still on occasion likes to remind you it’s there).

I feel like my moods shift back and forth, like an oscillating fan. I might experience a soft breeze of anxiety or a more forceful burst of hypomania. I could have a calm lull of nothing. Unfortunately, unlike a fan, I don’t have settings I can choose from.

I am trying so hard to come to terms with things I can’t change. It’s hard to let go of certain situations and to try to put distance between myself and bad things or sad things that have happened.

The sad and unfortunate reality is no one has a solution. There is no magic pill. No magic wand. No cure-all. No remote to rewind time. No remote to pause or stop time. No one has answers. No one can do anything to make things better for me or the situations I face or the ones I care about most have to deal with.

No one has any answers, there is not a damn thing anyone can do to make things better and this is not me being dramatic, this is just the cold hard truth.

People often respond with “I’m sorry”, “I don’t know what to say” or seem to imply they are afraid of saying the wrong thing. There is no right or wrong thing to say. Just don’t give me purple prose. Don’t feed me fluff and tell me things that you can’t guarantee or know will happen (i.e. “Don’t worry, everything will be okay”).

I’ve had to adjust to a new reality since my diagnosis and have experienced some of the worst anxiety attacks and bouts of depression and agoraphobia.

I’m not asking anything of anyone. All I can hope is that by reading this, you are gaining insight into the muddy waters of my mind.

Sometimes the thoughts are so heavy, they drag me down as though I were drowning in quicksand.

I struggle to stay afloat.

I may seem composed. I might be that day. I might be anxious and terrified on the inside. You might never know because I am so good at hiding it. I am so good at hiding it I seem “normal”.

I am exhausted is what I am.

I advise my doctor I am afraid of sleep. I can’t sleep because I have nightmares. I don’t remember them but I know I have them because I wake up breathless. And we know how important sleep is when it comes to mood disorders.

So now I must focus on getting myself to sleep better and to relax and get my anxiety under control. I have to. I can’t afford to fall apart. I don’t have the strength to, and then to put myself back together. So if Ativan and Clonazepam are my bandaids and Polysporin, well I guess I better use them to prevent further infection.