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, 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:

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?

Bipolar Disorder, Healthy Minds Canada

How Do You Describe Bipolar States?

This post first appeared on Healthy Minds Canada’s website:  

I watched the documentary Bright Lights with my friend this weekend. Bright Lights is the HBO documentary about Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds. It is a very honest documentary. There are parts that will make you smile and laugh, tear up and possibly cry, and nod in agreement.

One fan of Carrie Fisher’s said,

She epitomizes a strong woman who speaks her mind and I wish I was more like that.

Thanks to organizations like Healthy Minds Canada, many of us do speak our minds like that! I wish more people were that open about their diagnoses and felt free to talk about their mental illnesses. But, stigma is still a barrier.

I will take this opportunity to quickly say that March 30th is World Bipolar Day, so if you are on social media that day, post about it and help change the conversation about bipolar disorder and mental illness. This year, International Bipolar Foundation’s theme is “My Bipolar Fuels My Passion For” (#MyBipolarFuelsMyPassion4), and focuses on creativity.

Getting back to Bright Lights, there are clips of Carrie Fisher talking about bipolar disorder and describing her moods. This is one such line:

Roy is rollicking Roy, the wild ride of a mood. Pam is sediment Pam, who stands on the shore and sobs. One mood is the meal, the next mood the check.

What an analogy.

Mania is the wild ride, the carefree “I don’t give a F***” mood that just frolics around not worrying about the consequences of his destructive actions. Mania is the fun friend everyone wants to party with and get into trouble with. You don’t have worries when you have mania. You can’t feel worried.

Depression is watching the world go by and feeling like an outsider. You sob uncontrollably. Bipolar depression feels endless, and as though no one or nothing can comfort you. You feel so alone.

I know I am slipping into hypomania (a “milder” form of mania) when I become numb and start to care less about certain things I usually obsess over like having things very organized and clean. My laundry may sit in a basket for a week before I put it away, or I have piles of magazines, work, or mail all over my kitchen table and couch. “I don’t care, no big deal, it’s just paper, it’s not hurting anyone.” Or you can walk inside my condo with your shoes on and I won’t care vs. “NO- your shoes have been outside and they were in dirty areas and you will get germs everywhere!!!”

When the hypomania comes, I have energy, I feel reinvigorated and then all of a sudden I get things done at home and am very productive at work. Then I feel unstoppable and I think I can take on a lot more than I can. The creativity flows and the ideas are never ending.But I forget that what goes up must come down (even though I have experienced these cycles many, many, many times).

The best part of hypomania (aside from the creative bursts) is feeling numb towards emotions and feeling a reprieve from anxiety. When the high wears off, the anxiety comes back and sucker punches you so that you fall down and you don’t get up, because you become low. The depression sinks in. And so it goes, and if you rapid cycle like I do, you experience these states frequently, instead of having a predominant mood. I go through these cycles multiple times a year, sometimes in a month or in a week. It is exhausting.

I want to find a middle ground, but it’s so hard. The best coping mechanism I have is routine. I know what I have to do when I wake up, I know why I wake up and I know I have a purpose. I know I have responsibilities. Even in these contrasting states, I still function. I know there are people who criticize the use of medication, but you do what works for you. It works for me. It’s not the only reason I function, but it plays a significant role.

Carrie Fisher also said,

You know what would be so cool?….To get to the end of my personality…

The end of a personality. Where does my personality end? Maybe, as a creative person, it is endless. Maybe there are parts I have yet to discover. But that’s for another day.

I’ll leave you with this line that Debbie Reynolds said in Bright Lights,

The only way to get through life is to fight-you don’t make it through the easy way.

Bipolar Disorder, International Bipolar Foundation, My Real Opinion

30 Things Not To Say To Those With Bipolar Disorder

This post originally appeared on International Bipolar Foundation’s website:

things not to say

I always enjoy reading “listicles” about “what not to say” and “what to say” to someone with a mental illness. I read them and nod my head in agreement, as I can relate all too well. There are sayings or comments that may seem helpful, but aren’t in reality because they inadvertently minimize our thoughts and feelings or may make us feel even more anxious. I devised my own list and wanted to share it.

Here is my list, in no particular order:

  1. “Everyone has something.”
  2. “You don’t know what goes on behind closed doors.”
  3. “You always look for an excuse.”
  4. “How are you managing?” (And other loaded questions).
  5. “Be nice.”
  6. “Calm down.”
  7. “I’m not very happy with you right now.”
  8. “Why can’t you just be happy?”
  9. “You have every reason to be happy.”
  10. “What happened now?”
  11. “Why?”
  12. “Why can’t you have one day where you feel good?”
  13. “You’ve been like this for so long.”
  14. “Maybe you need to change your medications.”
  15. “Maybe your medications aren’t working anymore.”
  16. “You should discuss this with your doctor.”
  17. “What does your doctor have to say about this?”
  18. “What did your doctor say?”
  19. “You should exercise.”
  20. “I’ll motivate you.”
  21. “Don’t be lazy.”
  22. “Everyone has stress.”
  23. “Stop making excuses.”
  24. “You’re making yourself anxious.”
  25. “Stop anticipating.”
  26. “You’re making yourself nervous.”
  27. “Why can’t you make a decision?”
  28. “So-and-so said it would be nice to see you.”
  29. “Don’t worry about it.”
  30. “Everything’s going to be okay.”

To add some context to some items on the list, being indecisive is as frustrating for me as it is for my family and friends. It’s hard to make a decision because I am sitting there weighing the pros and cons of each choice and get lost in the process.

I don’t want my anxiety to be seen as an excuse to get out of events. Believe me, it’s no joy ride experiencing panic attacks and being afraid to leave your house because you are anxious. If someone cannot attend an event because of how they feel, it shouldn’t matter if it is as a result of a physical illness, physical injury or due to anxiety or depression. We should put mental illness and physical illness on equal planes.

I am not making myself anxious. I can’t predict when I am going to become anxious. I likely won’t believe someone who tells me everything is going to be okay because I am a realist and I will just ask, “How do you know?”, even though I know that anxiety-free periods do exist. I just don’t like trite sayings.

I’ll end on this note: happiness, acceptance and recovery are all journeys. I can’t answer why I am not happy all the time, why I keep having panic attacks or experience depression even though it’s the summer or why all the “why’s.” What I do know is that it’s my journey and I have to own it.

PS I'm Bipolar

My Head Hurts

(This post first appeared on my blog, PS I’m Bipolar)

My head hurts (and not just because I’ve had a migraine for 4 days).

It’s this build up of anger and irritability and thoughts.

So many thoughts – I don’t know what to do with them. There are so many at once, I can’t make sense of all of them, or write them down in time so that I won’t forget them- once they are forgotten about, they won’t come back.

I subscribe to BP Magazine (Bipolar Magazine) – and the Summer 2014 issue had an article about irritability and how it might predict mood swings/mood changes. I realize that sometimes my main symptom of depression is irritability (aside from very very very low motivation) but the irritability also precedes hypomania. I can have these very short bursts of hypomania (compared to how long the depression lasts). I am lucky in that the depression is not “paralyzing” in that I can still go to work, and leave my condo and do what I have to do, but that doesn’t make it any less serious. I just don’t present as overtly “sad” or “depressed”- or what “normal” people think depressed looks like…Because in the media, in the movies, on TV, depressed looks sad, despondent etc.

People assume persons with bipolar have marked symptoms and marked cycles. Because I have learned the art of suppression, it is harder for others to tell when the changes happen. I know when they are happening and shrug them off as best I can.

And I do think it is possible to be hypomanic (hyper) and sad at the same time. Just like you can be surrounded by people and still feel alone.

A few weeks ago I was out for a friend’s 30th birthday and after the dinner portion, which went on for 3+ hours, we went to a lounge/club and I just wasn’t feeling up for it and I could not bring myself to enjoy one minute of it. I just felt tired and exhausted and completely out of my element. That used to be my scene. I used to be able to go to these places and party and be carefree. USED to. Before the bipolar diagnosis in summer 2010. Before my anxiety returned in early 2008.

Isn’t it funny how a diagnosis changes everything? When I first met my psychiatrist, and we discussed family history, she put it out there that it was possible, that I could be bipolar, or it could happen. I have been seeing her since December 2002. I had developed anxiety in the Spring of 2003 – generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety and agoraphobia briefly (thankfully- since it was the end of 1st year university and I had 3 more years to go). In January 2008, after the anxiety returned on New Year’s Eve of all days, we spoke of the possibility of bipolar again. And sure enough, in July 2010, diagnosis confirmed after a week of pure hypomania and sheer anxiety (thank you high dose of Celexa).

My prescriptions cost over $6,000 a year. Unfortunately, my work insurance plan only covers a maximum of $2,000 in prescriptions per year. But, as mentioned in a previous post, it is a better environment.

So, at the back of my mind, for years, I knew of the possibility of developing bipolar. But I didn’t understand what bipolar was, or what it could do. I just knew that I had a grandfather who passed away 5 years before I was born that had bipolar and an uncle I’ve never met who is bipolar. And other relatives who suffer with depression.

I have no friends with bipolar disorder. I have friends who have had struggles with anxiety disorders and overcome them. i managed to do very well off of antidepressants for a few years in between 2005-2008. That was my only reprieve.

I think the hardest part is accepting the diagnosis. And receiving the diagnosis of bipolar, or any mental illness, is just as hard as receiving a diagnosis of a serious physical condition or illness. There is a before and an after. There is no going back.

Maybe I am irritable because I wish I could go back, and warn myself to enjoy life before this happens…But everything happens for a reason, and I want to be a writer, that is what I always pictured myself doing. So, maybe this bipolar diagnosis gives me my purpose, and will help me to achieve my ultimate goal- writing a book.

The question is, do I write it in my own name, or a pseudonym. I could only imagine how my future in-laws would react if I wrote it in my own name!

I read two really amazing books written by successful people with bipolar, A Bipolar Life by Steve Millard and Puppy Chow is Better Than Prozac by Bruce Goldstein. And they were brave enough to write in their own names.

I am irritable because I can’t do things as fast as I used to, be as productive as I used to, enjoy things the way I used to, sleep as well, exercise, control my emotions, be happy when I want to, get rid of the anger, be nice on command….

I am a high functioning bipolar person, yes, but I am used to more from myself. I know I am smart, I know I am capable, but I have seen myself do better and I want it back. Part of the problem is I am too aware of what is happening to me, but I am not able to stop it. It is frustrating, it is like watching a movie or a TV show and yelling at the characters, trying to tell them not to do something, but they just can’t hear you.

If someone asked me, what would make me happy, I would have to say honestly, I don’t know. I don’t know a lot of things right now, which makes me angry.

I have immense difficulties making decisions, and I have perfectionist tendencies- not that that is a bad thing when it comes to work, because the quality of my work is great and appreciated in my workplace, but it means that until I am satisfied with what I write, I have to agonize over every little punctuation mark, re-word things etc.

Even writing this blog post is a project – I sit here hoping that the writing sounds great and smart!

I was composing an email to my bridesmaids and it took me half an hour because I was thinking “Oh I hope this sounds good, does this sound right? Will the future sister-in-laws feel they are being acknowledged properly?” etc. I know I shouldn’t be stressing about petty things like that…but if you meet them, you would understand.

We all say “I don’t care what other people think” or “I don’t give a sh** what other people think of me” but the truth is we do. We want to be liked, we want to be appreciated, we don’t like confrontation. Except for when we are irritable, then we seek out confrontation.

Being irritable all the time is dangerous- I have been irritable for months- it is very very hard to keep it together and not blow up at everyone over stupid things. And to not be petty. The best remedy is laughter- find something funny to watch, laughter helps. My grandfather always said laughter is the best medicine. He passed away unexpectedly in January, which was a huge blow to my family and I still can’t process that he is gone, he was a mentor to me, and was the best history professor. He was one of a kind. He never complained about his lot in life. We should all learn to be like him.

And then when I think of that, I get mad at myself for my pity party. Do you do that too? Feel guilty for being irritable, depressed, down, manic, whatever your state is? Minimize what you are feeling? That’s what we think we are supposed to do…but we are doing nothing wrong by having actual feelings. Humans feel, humans think. We are only human, we are allowed to make mistakes, to have emotions, to be emotional and have several emotions, even if they contradict each other.

So I have to learn to 1. Love myself 2. Not be angry at myself 3. Accept my diagnosis 4. Let it out 5. Tell my family to accept whatever mood I am in.

These are all hard to do, for different reasons. It is very hard to love yourself. You have to forgive yourself for all the “stupid mistakes” and “regrets” and understand it is part of your journey and there will be more, but in the end, you get to where you are supposed to be.

#2 is part of #1. Once I forgive myself, maybe I will stop being angry at myself. I have to stop expecting perfection out of myself. I don’t have to cook a perfect meal. I don’t have to write the most grammatically correct sentence, with the most complex, intellectual words in every paragraph I write. My home office does not have to be perfect. I have to stop stressing so I will stop losing my hair, and stop developing acne, and then stop touching my face, so I will stop having scars from the acne! Vicious cycle. Maybe once all of this happens, I will want to take better care of myself.

#3- Acceptance- well, the diagnosis is here to stay. What I am supposed to do with that? I am not going to stand on the top of a rooftop somewhere with a megaphone and shout out, “Hi everyone, I just wanted you to know I have bipolar II”. There are people who will say “good for you for doing that” and others who will look at me like I have leprosy. Some people just won’t understand.  I have to accept it before others do, and it’s my diagnosis to accept first, and my acceptance is what counts, not the acceptance of others. I also read in my BP Magazine, regarding irritability and triggers that people have different triggers, and of course we know that no 2 people have the exact same experience being bipolar, depressed, or whatever mental illness they have. Everyone is different.

#4. I don’t know how to let it out with out exploding or I just end up suppressing what I am feeling. I will just let it pass, or end up having a tearful episode. I need to find an outlet- like what I am doing now, which is writing. The last time I felt I had to let it out, I wrote a blog post. Maybe I am learning. I think my perception of letting it out is narrow, and I interpret to mean, share with someone else. I prefer to write it down, or talk to my doctor.

#5 My family has to accept what bipolar looks like, whether they want to or not. I am not saying this includes future in-laws, because I do not have that level of comfort. They are aware of its existence but have not seen it in action. This of course is why certain comments have been made “i.e. I don’t understand how you are able to work” or “why are you bothering to have an engagement party, or a wedding if you have such bad anxiety”. Just because I don’t have overt symptoms in front of them, or all the time, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. If I want to be tearful, sad, angry, mad, happy, hyper, giddy, LET ME. My parents and fiance should be happy that I am comfortable enough to take of the mask/facade. I am myself in front of the friends that know. I test the waters and if they are not frightened by me being hyper one week and quiet the next, then I know they are not afraid. I am not saying I am a dangerous person, I am just a variety of moods so some people may not understand how or why. The only person I am ever a danger to is myself, because I may not want to eat or sleep. I would never do anything worse than that. There is no situation that can’t be handled or fixed.

I hope other people read this and nod their heads and say, “yeah I know what she means”. I am sure other people have relatives or in-laws or significant others who forget what the mood shifts look like, and don’t understand at times, just how frustrating it is to be bipolar. Or people who still have trouble digesting the diagnosis because of the stigma society attaches to mental illnesses and therefore fear telling others. And people who have trouble with self-esteem and self-love and are afraid to be their true selves.

If you want to be irritable, or whatever mood you’re in, embrace the mood and let it out.