Bipolar Disorder, My Real Opinion

How Am I?

 

Ahhh… the question that I think most people with mental illness hate answering. How are you (or how have you been)?

The first thought that pops into my mind is “Does this person really want to know or are they just asking for the sake of asking?”. You know, some people just follow social conventions and follow protocol when conversing or when they haven’t seen you in a while (or spoken to you in a while). And there’s the problem. If you haven’t seen/heard from me in a while, and you are my friend, shouldn’t that give you some indication of how I am doing?

Yes, friendship is a two-way street, BUT, a mood disorder makes it really hard to reach out and say, “Hi! Let’s get together!” or “Let’s chat tomorrow” or make plans and actually keep them. Or even pick up a phone just because, or sometimes just sending a text message or email is hard. You don’t want to expose your true thoughts and feelings and feel like you are under a microscope. You probably aren’t under a microscope, but your anxiety and depression tell you otherwise.

Our minds tell us nobody understands and nobody cares. We begin to believe it. It’s funny, because I look back to how many people were at my engagement party and wedding, and how few of them I have actually seen since my wedding! Is it my fault?  Is it their fault? Does it matter? Do I care?

The people I really care about and that I thought cared about me should know better. Sorry to be frank, but they really should.

Do I have friends? Yes. Do most of them know I have bipolar disorder? I would say many of them do. Do they know I withdraw and “hibernate” when I am not doing well? Yes. Do they reach out and try to help or do anything? Well…few do.

No one is psychic and knows how I am feeling, but if a friend knows my patterns, all I ask is to check in once in a while. I hate “how are you”, but maybe “I’ve been thinking about you, just wanted to say hi”, would get me less irritated. Or just tell me “you’ve been on my mind, I wanted to check in”. I don’t care if you tell me “you’ve been quiet lately”, because then I know that you actually noticed. And I will appreciate that perceptiveness more than you know.

I get that people are busy and have their own lives to live. But I shouldn’t have to rationalize to myself why people aren’t there for me when I am always there for them. I am emotionally and mentally drained. I had a very difficult 2017. Well… I have had a very hard time for the past 5 years let’s say. Getting back to my earlier point, if you are a friend, act like a friend. No, it doesn’t have to be tit for tat by any means. Just be real and sincere.

Have I become bitter and cynical? Am I now a pessimist? I hope not. I am just frustrated and angry about things that have happened to me and my family. Family is everything to me – and we have a small family, so it makes it that much harder to deal with.

Anyone who works full time knows it is tiring. You have limited free time. You only have the weekends. Anyone who has a mental illness AND works full time knows it is even more exhausting because you spend 5 days a week trying to regulate your moods at work and (hopefully) not explode at someone or cry at your desk and trying to keep your anxiety at bay (which is not easy to do). Nothing about anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder is easy.

Am I happy? Not yet. But it’s not out of the question. Some day, I am sure I will be happy again. I just don’t know what will make me happy, and it’s not going to be something material, it has to come from within. They say happiness is a journey and not a destination, so maybe this is a very very long journey.

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Bipolar Disorder, International Bipolar Foundation, My Real Opinion

The Holidays Aren’t Happy For Everyone, And That’s Okay

This post originally appeared on International Bipolar Foundation’s website: http://www.ibpf.org/blog/holidays-aren%E2%80%99t-happy-everyone-and-that%E2%80%99s-okay

It’s that time of year again. December. The holidays are approaching. Time off school for students, perhaps time off work for those whose offices close (or who take time off), time to travel for some, staycations for others. A chance to spend time with family and friends and enjoy yourself- that is, if you want to and are able to.

You may be wondering what I mean by that pessimistic sounding last line. I am just being realistic for those of us who experience bipolar disorder (or any type of mental illness).

To clarify, when I talk about holidays, I am referring to whatever holidays happen in December, including New Year’s Eve. Okay, especially New Year’s Eve.

There is pressure to make plans, to be social, to “party” (depending on your age) and to have a good time.

I find the lead up to the end of the year brings anxiety and feelings of sadness, guilt and disappointment.

However, this year I noticed somewhat of a mixed state where I became hypomanic and wanted to shop and buy random things off of Amazon (because Amazon Prime is dangerous when you have a credit card). I am tempted to hide my credit cards from myself or have my husband hide them from me.

Why anxiety, sadness, disappointment?

Anxiety hits me hard because I feel a rush of thoughts surging through my brain about everything I didn’t do and should have done and still have to do. And of course, the thought “how will I get everything done” shows up. Anxiety makes you live in the future. You are future-focused. It probably doesn’t help that resolutions are associated with New Year’s and people always ask if you have any resolutions and if so, what they are. Or if you have had a bad year, “Next year will be better”. Then you doubt this is possible because anxiety tells you not to believe anything anyone says.

Depression makes you live in the past.  I feel like I accomplished nothing. I am saddened by this. So, then I feel guilty and like I disappointed people, because I set ridiculously high standards for myself. I start to remember how productive and efficient I used to be a 4 or 5 years ago, before this awful mental fatigue that interferes with everything existed.

The usual thoughts are that “I didn’t do x, y or z” and then I start thinking about how I would have if I had more time and I should have more time and can I make more time and then I panic about how time goes by so fast and then I just feel old. Then my husband tells me “age is just a number”.

For me, this time of year is difficult as it brings back some very difficult and painful memories (I know, I know, it’s bad to dwell on the past but this is what happens when you experience depression) and I associate this time of year with one awful New Year’s Eve I had four years ago where I felt so low and alone. But I made it into the next year, and the year after, and the year after that and I will keep on going…

So, how do you survive the holidays and New Year’s Eve with bipolar disorder? Here are a few tips:

1)Take care of yourself. Take some time to decompress and practice self-care whatever form it may come in. For some of us self-care can be as small as taking micro-breaks from a task we are doing, getting take out instead of cooking, getting our nails done, having a bubble bath- you get the idea. It can be doing an activity you enjoy. Really, it is about carving out time for yourself, so that you take care of yourself, especially your mind.

2)Forget about making New Year’s Resolutions. This can just create added stress and expectations that you don’t need in your life. Or, if you are determined to make a change, aim for something small and achievable, so you don’t have to deal with the feeling that you’ve let yourself down, and so that you do get to experience feeling proud of yourself for making that change.

3)Make plans that you will actually enjoy and will be comfortable with and more importantly with people you are comfortable with!

4)Don’t overextend yourself. If you are going to a party, or an event and are asked to do something or bring something, keep it simple and don’t offer to do more than you are asked to. It’s okay to bring something store bought to a potluck or a party. When you are around people who know the real you, they are not judging!

5)If you feel like doing nothing, do nothing. Just go with the flow, whatever it is. Don’t fight it. If you don’t want to socialize, it’s not a crime to stay home. There are many of us who are content with takeout/snacks and Netflix and there is nothing wrong with that.

However you decide to spend your holidays, may your mind give you a break from anxiety, depression and anything else it throws at you and let your mind be quiet enough to let you enjoy what you are doing and who you are with! We all deserve that, right?

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Bipolar Disorder, Healthy Minds Canada, My Real Opinion

Be Relentlessly You

This post first appeared on Healthy Minds Canada’s website: https://healthymindscanada.ca/be-relentlessly-you/ 

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I am admittedly not a sports fan, but I did watch the Super Bowl last week, including the fantastic performance Lady Gaga put on. She performed a variety of her songs, including “Born This Way”, which has lyrics that I know resonate with many people, because of the message.

Predictably, Internet trolls and people who had nothing better to do started posting about Lady Gaga having a “stomach” and other unnecessary comments. As soon as I saw those articles start to appear on social media, aside from rolling my eyes, I felt angry and frustrated. This woman is a talented musician and she has an amazing figure and she is proud of her body. She is not ashamed. She didn’t have to, but she did respond to those “haters’, and what she said is powerful:

 

No matter who you are or what you do. I could give you a million reasons why you don’t need to cater to anyone or anything to succeed. Be you, and be relentlessly you. That’s the stuff of champions. – Lady Gaga

From personal experience, it is exhausting being anyone but yourself. The mask becomes heavy, you question who you are and if people actually know you. Having a mental illness is difficult for many reasons, but the worst part of having a mental illness is stigma. The stigma makes it difficult to be yourself, if you fall victim to it. I didn’t want to hide anymore, so I’ve been sharing my story. The best way to fight stigma is to stare it in the face and show you are not afraid. I am not afraid. I am not the problem. It’s people who are afraid of mental illness that are the problem- and we shouldn’t cater to them.

I also really appreciate that Lady Gaga is not ashamed to talk about mental illness. In an article from Esperanza Magazine, she discusses her experience with anxiety and depression and talks about acceptance.

 

No matter how much success you have, no matter how many people accept you to your face, the person that really needs to accept you is you. -Lady Gaga

Remember, your opinion is the one that matters the most.

 

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Bipolar Disorder, Healthy Minds Canada, My Real Opinion

Everything’s Gonna Be Fine

I love inspirational quotes, particularly the one above. I’m sure many of us have heard the saying, “This too shall pass”, which is what Robert Frost’s quote reminds me of. I know when I am experiencing something unpleasant, or going through a long depressive spell or, as I am currently, an extended mixed state. I have to believe that it will end. That there is a way out.

Every challenge is a stepping stone, is a notch on the belt, is something that makes me stronger and is a lesson learned. To get out, I must go through. I won’t just be passing by, I have to have the full experience, as unpleasant or painful as it may be.

I was watching season 3 of Transparent last week, and the season finale really touched me. The final minutes of the show, one of the characters, Shelly, performs her one woman show, “To Shell and Back” and she sings Alanis Morrissette’s “Hand in My Pocket” as a metaphor for what she has been through and how she feels. Prior to this scene, the family had been having a makeshift Passover seder, and one of the characters said they should open up about what they feel enslaved by. Shelly does not share, but she tells her family, essentially if they want to know how she feels, to come see her perform.

I always tell my husband/family/friends that if they (or anyone) wants to know how I am, then read my blogs. Sometimes it’s easier to express myself this way, even if it is a very public way to do so. When the words appear on the page and the thoughts are out of my head, I feel freer.

Shelly’s performance was liberating for her, and was her catharsis. If you read the lyrics to “Hand In My Pocket”, you will see how they can be comforting to so many people.

You can get a sense of this from the first and last verses:

I’m broke but I’m happy, I’m poor but I’m kind
I’m short but I’m healthy, yeah
I’m high but I’m grounded, I’m sane but I’m overwhelmed
I’m lost but I’m hopeful, baby
What it all comes down to
Is that everything’s gonna be fine, fine, fine
‘Cause I’ve got one hand in my pocket
And the other one is giving a high five

And what it all boils down to
Is that no one’s really got it figured out just yet
I’ve got one hand in my pocket
And the other one is playing the piano

These lyrics speak to me because even if I feel lost, and I don’t have it figured out, who does? Who has the answer to everything? I know it’s trite to say “have hope”, but let yourself believe (if you want to), that everything’s going to be fine. Fine- not perfect, not great. But that’s okay. Fine is a more realistic expectation. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else, find your own baseline.

William Wordsworth said, “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart”, so that’s why I do this. No matter how I am feeling when I write, I am breathing my feelings into my blogs and putting my real self out there, whether I am fine, whether I am not.

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Bipolar Disorder, Healthy Minds Canada, My Real Opinion

Finding Deeper Meaning In Songs You Love

In a previous post, I shared my “Feel Better” playlist. One of the songs on my playlist is “1979” by The Smashing Pumpkins, from the album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, which came out in 1995. I had no idea what “Mellon Collie” (melancholy) was and I didn’t quite get the meaning of the album’s title as I was 11, but it was a 2-disc album that had great songs and was popular (and I still have it in my giant box of CD’s).

I never understood why I liked that album name and didn’t appreciate what it meant until recently. From what I’ve read, I know that the songwriter himself experiences depression and that seems to provide inspiration for the album and the play on the word melancholy.

What is melancholy?

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Sometimes we don’t know why we are sad, or what fuels our depression. Sometimes our depression does feel infinite, like it’s going to go on forever….

1979 is on the playlist that I listen to almost every day at work to help me get me through the day. There’s no lyric in particular that drew me to it when I was younger, but I took a look at the lyrics today, to see if there is anything that stood out:

1979

Shakedown 1979, cool kids never have the time
On a live wire right up off the street
You and I should meet
June bug skipping like a stone
With the headlights pointed at the dawn
We were sure we’d never see an end to it all

And I don’t even care to shake these zipper blues
And we don’t know just where our bones will rest
To dust I guess
Forgotten and absorbed into the earth below

Double cross the vacant and the bored
They’re not sure just what we have in the store
Morphine city slippin’ dues, down to see that

We don’t even care, as restless as we are
We feel the pull in the land of a thousand guilts
And poured cement, lamented and assured
To the lights and towns below
Faster than the speed of sound
Faster than we thought we’d go, beneath the sound of hope

Justine never knew the rules
Hung down with the freaks and the ghouls
No apologies ever need be made
I know you better than you fake it, to see

And I don’t even care to shake these zipper blues
And we don’t know just where our bones will rest
To dust I guess
Forgotten and absorbed into the earth below

The street heats the urgency of sound
As you can see there’s no one around

Sometimes, when you’re really in a low mood, you don’t care about ending your depression, and you just don’t feel like caring about anything. I like the line, “No apologies ever need be made/I know you better than you fake it, to see”. That resonates with me. It’s a busy time of year at work, I have been feeling overwhelmed, tired and the weather changes/time change have been wreaking havoc on my internal clock and ability to sleep well. So, towards the end of last week, I was feeling very vulnerable and emotional (still able to hold it together at work, as always), and one night driving home from work I just started crying in my car. I didn’t tell anyone about it. Yesterday I was feeling frustrated and told my husband, “I don’t want to apologize for being anxious or being myself”. And then I let myself cry, because sometimes you need to let yourself cry…and let someone comfort you, as they see the real you.

While writing this post, I also remembered another Smashing Pumpkins; song that I felt connected to:

 Thirty-Three

Speak to me in a language I can hear humour me before I have to go
Deep in thought I forgive everyone
As the cluttered streets greet me once again
I know I can’t be late supper’s waiting on the table
Tomorrow’s just an excuse away
So I pull my collar up and face the cold on my own
The earth laughs beneath my heavy feet
At the blasphemy in my old jangly walk
Steeple guide me to my heart and home
The sun is out and up and down again
I know I’ll make it, love can last forever
Graceful swans of never topple to the earth
And you can make it last, forever you
You can make it last, forever you
And for a moment I lose myself
Wrapped up in the pleasures of the world
I’ve journeyed here and there and back again
But in the same old haunts I still find my friends
Mysteries not ready to reveal
Sympathies I’m ready to return
I’ll make the effort, love can last forever
Graceful swans of never topple to the earth
Tomorrow’s just an excuse
And you can make it last, forever you
You can make it last, forever you
I just love the line, “Tomorrow’s just an excuse away“.
Tomorrow can be whatever we want it to be.
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Bipolar Disorder, Healthy Minds Canada, My Real Opinion

Let’s Talk About High Functioning Depression

As a law clerk, and as part of my part-time social media marketing/content writing business, I attend legal conferences to learn about industry news and different areas of law. I recently attended a conference at the end of October. There was a wide array of topics covered, but one in particular stood out for me: high functioning workplace depression. This was by far one of the best presentations I have attended, because I can relate to it. I sat through the presentation, listening to the speaker, my eyes welling up with tears (for various reasons), and so grateful that our legal organization invited this speaker to our conference to share his experience and to spread awareness about this very important issue.

In recent blogs, I may have mentioned I am experiencing a mixed state. I keep fluctuating. Right now I am very easily agitated, can become hypomanic easily, have difficulty sleeping but I feel low and sad- painfully sad at the same time. The sadness is sucking the life out of me- or at least that is how it feels as I write this. So, feeling this way, listening to that presentation, I just wanted to cry. Not because it upset me, but almost tears of relief, for someone speaking up, and to such a large crowd.

I am a high functioning person. I was always a good student, perfectionist of sorts, and eager to please. I still am, so that makes me high functioning at work, even with depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. You would never know that I go through what I go through by looking at me do my work at work, or interacting with me at work. I am that good at hiding it. Believe me, this is not easy to do, and it is exhausting. I often wonder how long I can keep it up for, but I have pretty much been at it my whole working career. I will say that in my current position, my job does not involve a lot of client interaction so unless I am attending a mediation, I do not have to interact with others unless I am having lunch in the lunchroom or have to say good morning/have a good night/nice weekend to anyone who walks by my desk.

Getting back to this presentation I attended, the speaker discussed the personal struggle of “How can I be depressed as a lawyer, by all accounts I have a good life, so many people are worse off. Why can’t I snap out of it?”. So essentially, self-stigma, or “my problems aren’t serious”, which I can relate to because when I am really low, I convince myself I don’t have a right to be depressed and I am stupid for feeling that way. To counteract the self-stigma/self-criticism, the speaker expressed that depression doesn’t have much to do with your personal status; wealth/”status” is not a cure. He mentioned that it is unfortunate that people still think mental illness is an affliction of the weak. He also described high functioning depression in an interesting way, explaining that it can disguise itself as intensity and determination so that our work does not suffer.

He talked about the importance of asking for help and seeking help. You can’t think your way into a better mood. I know this to be true. This is why statements like “cheer up” or “snap out of it” don’t help people with depression. It’s not that simple. We have to figure out what works for us, on our own time, because in our darkest days, we find pleasure in nothing and cannot enjoy anything.

What works for one person, may not work for another person. I read many mental health blogs so I feel less alone. I write these blogs hoping to bring comfort to other people.

Today, I am writing this blog while “pet-sitting” at my parents’ house. I love my dogs. The dogs are family. Nothing is better than seeing their happy faces and wagging tails because they are so excited to see me. Unfortunately, the condominium I live in doesn’t allow pets so I only see them when I go to my parents’, so spending time with them is a good reason to get out of my condo. One of the dogs, Norman, came into my life when I was in a very bad place after my bipolar diagnosis. I remember I was having trouble getting out of bed on the weekends and getting to work on time during the week (of course commuting on the subway that always had delays never helped). I just felt listless. I don’t think my parents wanted to have three dogs in the house, as we were renovating the house but this puppy needed a home and once I saw him, I had to have him. And he made me so happy, and that was it. Slowly, I started to come out from under that dark cloud of “I have a lifelong mental illness and I hate myself” because Norman was to be my responsibility and he was and still is so adorable and sweet that I wanted to get up and at it.

This is Norman as a puppy:

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Dogs just feel your emotions and give you “support” in their own way. Dogs don’t care about your diagnosis of bipolar disorder and don’t care about stigma.

We should only care about stigma in the sense of acknowledging that stigma is dangerous and we need to find ways to eradicate it. It’s going to be tough, because so many people have ingrained beliefs about mental illness, the media portrays people with mental illness as violent and dangerous, and there are so many dangerous myths out there. Start the dialogue about living well with mental illness. Create a safe space to talk about it. Take advantage of days like “Bell Let’s Talk” to share your feelings or story.

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Bipolar Disorder, Healthy Minds Canada, My Real Opinion

From My Journal

I always keep a journal in my purse in case I have ideas for blogs or thoughts I need to get out of my head. A few weeks ago I had this idea to make a list of things I “want” and how I “want to feel” and this was the result:

I want to feel unencumbered.

I want to know what it feels like not to hide in plain sight, what it feels like to be able to be easygoing, spontaneous and free, because I am none of the aforementioned.

I want that elephant sitting on my chest to find a new home; not in my brain or in another part of me, even if it’s temporary.

I want to know who “myself” is, so when someone says “You don’t seem like yourself” I know who they are talking about.

I want to stop looking over my shoulder, wondering when anxiety is coming.

I want to stop the feeling of suffocating from the inside.

I want to breathe deeply and take it all in.

I want to look in the mirror and recognize the person staring back at me.

I want to feel comfortable in my own skin.

I want to sleep and have good dreams and not dread going to sleep.

I want to be fearless.

I want to be courageous.

I want to make people understand what it feels like to have this brain.

I want to escape my thoughts.

I want a break from a racing mind overloaded with thoughts.

I want to shake it off,  let it go, forgive and forget.

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