I have a season!

This Bipolar Owl nails it:

My mood stabiliser kind of works. Kind of. Saturday made me understand what people mean by ‘zombiefication’. Sunday was lovely. Today was kind of very nice but with depressed bits in the morning and in the evening (now). This is not what I call ‘stabilised’. Yes, my depressions are less deep and highs are less high, but is that really all I can expect?

I have no idea what to do about money. Basically I haven’t got any and I am not capable of any work right now. Although sometimes I am. It’s just that I never know in advance, which makes me somewhat unemployable. I mean, I could either ace the interview, if I got one tomorrow, or fail to show up, depending on a mood swing that randomly comes every day or two. Oh yes, and I might get upset with the next person who sends me an article about link between creativity and mood disorders: yes there is a link. Now take my creativity and my depressions…

…although, fuck, no, I wouldn’t give my creativity away if I could lose both or none. I can’t imagine my life without being creative. All I do is creative. I constantly make things. Art connected me with my boyfriend. If creativity was gone from my life, the hole would be so enormous I can’t even imagine any bits left outside it.

*sigh*

Advertisements

Stabilising

I am feeling more stable these days. Finally. I am not entirely thrilled about the fact I seem to have stabilised in a mild depression with constant suicidal thoughts, but still, a week of that IS more stable than anything I experienced in months.

Yesterday I realised I am now going to be an accidental straight edger.

Straight edge originated as a hardcore punk movement. Members of the movement pledged to never drink, take drugs or smoke tobacco. The more hardcore ones also refrained from pre-marital sex, caffeine and/or meat. Being a hardcore punk movement it wasn’t as peaceful and holy as it sounds, of course, and straight edge started being perceived as a gang.

It hit home yesterday for me: I am pretty much straight edge for life now. I am not allowed to drink, take drugs and I am adviced to skip caffeine and tobacco as well. For life. And to go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time every night/morning. For life. In a town of parties, where life begins at 11pm, this is going to be easy. Not. I realise I am whining and that there are people who have no legs, who have cancer or who don’t get to eat every day, of course, and that I should shut up and thank the Lord in my prayers every day for not taking my legs/lungs/eyes away instead of my nights going out. But I’m too busy being suicidal.

I wonder if this is a side effect of the medication or the fact that I have no antidepressant in my system anymore that makes me constantly suicidal. It’s very slight, so to say, it’s just the ever-present thought “I wish I could fall asleep and never wake up”. It’s not proper full-on she-bang “let’s do this particular thing and I shall be dead!!!!”, luckily, as resisting THAT for days and days might be a bit too difficult. I just kind of don’t feel like living really. And with that mood, the added limitations and difficulties seem to pile up into a mountain that covers the entire horizon and makes it very difficult to look past the coming day or two.

‘How are you?’ ask me my friends. ‘Oh you know,’ I respond, ‘ups and downs’. This is going to be a running joke for a while longer.

Book review: Marian Keyes, “Mystery at Mercy Close”

I love Marian Keyes.

I realise my reading taste might be as bipolar (ho, ho, ho) as my music taste, seeing as my three favourite authors are Miss Keyes, Julio Cortazar and Michael Cunningham, but it works for me. And I do not think that Marian Keyes’ books are any more “Chick lit” than Michael Cunningham’s. “Chick lit” applies quite rightly to Sophie Kinsella, but Marian doesn’t write books about shopping and shoes. The topics are mentioned, but most of all, her books are about people in turmoil.

Those acquainted with the Walsh family, like me, have squealed in delight when they found out the new book will be about Helen Walsh. Helen is slightly sociopathic, has a bigmouth that makes Morrissey’s look like an overpolite nun’s and decided to become a private investigator because everything else she tried was boring and they wouldn’t let her be a flight attendant even though she was totally as rude as she could. In previous books, Helen was a funny, rude side character that seemed impossible to describe (you will recall that when Keyes wrote a book about Anna, the drugs magically disappeared from it). This time, the authoress pulled an almost impossible feat and kept Helen’s quirkiness intact, while still making her oddly likeable and convincing.

Helen, aged 33, gets depressed, and Keyes’ account of depression through her heroin gives away a lot of her own story. Helen doesn’t even believe in depression when it strikes her, and she can’t really point to children abuse as cause, since there wasn’t any. Her brain chemistry just fights against her, which is something I can totally relate to myself. Helen spends time in a mental hospital, tries various sorts of medications, gets close to killing herself. All this, as is her magic talent, Marian Keyes manages to despite in a way which, while less hysterically funny than her usual, nevertheless remains light, warm and very honest.

The story is a crime story, and while some of Amazon readers would disagree, I found it very entertaining and had no clue whatsoever what would happen. Some clues are hinted at as obvious, then dismissed within one line as wrong, which I suppose should have been expected. In a way, Marian’s writing is a version of Game of Thrones’ writing — alliances are formed, closed, then re-formed, and things happen that you don’t expect to.

The story is also a story of the economical crisis, describing changes in Ireland. Pretty much anyone can relate to them; the heroine gets her electricity cut, her house repossessed, bunch of blokes take her things away from her and she has to move back with her parents. And on her quest to find a missing pop singer she encounters more and more people with the same problems. “We were on antidepressants, but we had to stop taking them, because we couldn’t afford them anymore” says one of the side characters. The entire economy seems to nod; it was on antidepressants, but eventually couldn’t afford them. The side character self-medicates with big quantities of weed. As for economy, well, banks seem to have found a way to cope which is semi-legal in certain areas…

I can’t say I read those 500+ pages, I SWALLOWED them. I spent a day in Helen’s head, and it was a great day, although there was quite a bit of pain and suffering in it as well. I will be re-reading this one, and I hope Marian’s depression lifts soon.

And so the story goes…

Ah bloody hell.

*

I am starting to have more and more sense of humour about this. It’s black humour, but at least *I* find it funny. I now look in the mirror, see my eyebrows I dyed red, and mutter to self: “well, I am officially crazy, so others would better get over that shit”. I apply the same philosophy to everything else. Hopefully I won’t end up becoming a proper sociopath.

My mood chart shows three things very clearly. 1. I can’t drink ANY amount of alcohol unless I enjoy being in the pits of hell. (I don’t.) 2. Anxiety and depression go together. 3. I have been “stablish” for the last three days, which is the longest I can remember it in recent memory. Unfortunately that means being stably mildly depressed.

Doctor sez she’s going to plop some antidepressant on top of my mood stabiliser when I have been stable and on right levels of valproic acid for two weeks. Unfortunately the Friday blood test showed my levels as too low, so that’s two weeks from next Friday onwards. And then of course it will be a few weeks until the antidepressant starts to work. So I won’t be able to do much else than read, go to the gym every now and again and wait at least another month.

I’ve been recommended two more books on bipolar disorder, but I am starting to worry I am overspending on books about BP and that is probably also a symptom. ARGHH

Literature

In the time since my diagnosis — 18 days and counting! go me! — I did an awful lot of reading and research trying to make sense of it all, and understand the nature of what is happening.

The best piece of literature for a freshly diagnosed person would be, I think, this here leaflet from DBSAlliance. I loved and hated reading it, because it described me to a tee.

Some people with bipolar disorder can experience what’s called a mixed state. When this happens, people have symptoms of both depression and mania at the very same time. Those who have had a mixed state often describe it as the very worst part of bipolar disorder. They have all of the negative feelings that come with depression, but they also feel agitated, restless and activated, or “wired.”

WORD BRO

[…] hypomania—the mild highs experienced by those with bipolar II disorder—is especially difficult to recognize. Hypomania might not have negative side effects for the individual at first. And sometimes, people actually function better during a hypomanic episode. They often see themselves as being more productive.

Most people with bipolar disorder aren’t inclined to seek psychiatric treatment when they’re experiencing the highs of mania or hypomania. In fact, many don’t even realize that the highs aren’t normal. Many folks would like to keep their highs, because they feel outgoing, extroverted and friendly … like “the life of the party.”

YOU TELL THEM

Antidepressants can sometimes also make bipolar depression worse by causing suicidal thoughts. If that happens, the traditional antidepressant should be discontinued immediately.

Well, that would explain why I have 1) been told to quit my MAOI cold turkey, and 2) why I haven’t plunged into deepest depression ever, which is what I expected to happen.

Even with excellent health care, sometimes bipolar depression can still be mistaken for—and misdiagnosed as—unipolar depression. Why? Because many people with bipolar disorder only have recurrent episodes of depression during the early years of their illness. The hypomanic or manic episodes often don’t start right away.

When people are misdiagnosed, treatment might seem to work for only a short time, and then the mood episodes return.

My case precisely.

And so on. I am described in this leaflet without any mercy. The leaflet is short, concise, clear and irritatingly correct in describing how I feel, what I went through in the years before, in the last three months and in the last few weeks. I have read five books in two weeks, and this leaflet is still the best source of information I have found, due to all the qualities I just listed.

There’s more though.

Wendy Williamson’s “I’m not crazy, just bipolar” is what I would think of as average BP story. This is not to be misread as “average writing”. I enjoyed the book, and could see myself in bits of it, and I thanked the gods that I haven’t experienced some of the stuff Wendy has been through. So far I have been lucky enough to avoid altercations with the police and law, and Wendy went through both, and described them in a way that is both honest and amusing. The book is a memoir rather than a scientific study, and there are parts that read like good fiction… but at the same time strike a chord that’s thrillingly familiar.

 
 

I found Marya Hornbacher’s “Madness” a tough book to complete. Some of the manic parts I skipped over altogether, because I found them exhausting. Hornbacher does what I would call “raw writing”, essentially putting the reader inside the mind of a properly manic person. Since I have the “luck” to visit that mind every now and then without help of literature, I elected not to read those bits and skipped until the time she is back to her medication regime. I would say that if you actually are bipolar yourself, this is not a good book to read. If you have a bipolar partner, you might skip this one as well. But if you think bipolar is something that sounds very interesting, you like to watch Gregg Araki’s movies and listen to Nine Inch Nails, “Madness” is the book for you.

John McManamy is an author of a website devoted to bipolar and other illnesses, McManWeb. I found his website tough to navigate and confusingly unstructured, but the book is a very different story. While some of the more… medical chapters are clearly aimed at people who are either doctors or intelligent enough to understand phrases such as “norepinephrine receptors” thrown at them in every sentence, the book itself was rather useful and interesting. Plus, some of McManamy’s humour is properly funny. (I am not being ironic here!)

 

 

George Ison’s “Diary of a bipolar” is written by a person for whom English is obviously second language; it has spelling and grammar mistakes; it portrays an author that is not an extremely likeable person; it is also the book that I found easiest to relate to. While Hornbacher somehow manages to make her mania sound exciting and glamorous, and McManamy can at times be too focused on making himself look smart and educated, Ison simply writes about how he feels. And as any person who experienced bipolar disorder knows, that means lots of ups and even more downs. This is not “look at me being a great writer y’all” kind of book; it’s a diary. And it is a touching one — it doesn’t come with a 100 page bibliography like McManama’s or Hornbacher’s books, it isn’t full of amazingly intellectual jokes either. But it affected me perhaps the most.

In a way, Andrew Solomon’s “The Noonday Demon” is one of the sadder books I’ve read; he studied depression in extreme depth (sometimes too extreme, making me skip entire chapters) only to have his diagnosis changed to bipolar a few years after the book came out (and got a bunch of awards). I am still reading this book — 600+ pages can take a few hours y’know — but this one is DEFINITELY worth its price, even though it deals pretty much solely with unipolar depression. Solomon did something nobody really attempted before, interviewing people of various backgrounds, various races and classes, thus proving finally that depression isn’t just a “middle-class white lady” disease, it can hurt Inuits, Africans, men, women, young, old, poor and rich equally badly. (And some of them us do not have Hornbacher’s money to throw at eBay in a manic episode.)

Kay Jamison’s “An Unquiet Mind” is the single best book about bipolar I have read so far. Written by a psychiatrist who, despite her profession, still finds it difficult to admit she is ill and stick to her medication regime, the book thrills, terrifies and describes the disorder as accurately as possible. I found Jamison’s case to be a source of hope; she was scared to publish the book, not knowing if that will end her professional career, yet did so anyway and to this day works at her post as co-director of Mood Disorders Center at John Hopkins. It looks like it is possible to be bipolar, highly successful, maintain a long-term full-time career, write books and be amazing, and Kay Jamison proves that in one smashing package that “An Unquiet Mind” is. I intend to read all of Jamison’s books.

 
Any other books you would recommend I read?

Fuck that shit

And by that shit I mean “acceptance”.

No offense anyone. But this was not meant to happen. I wasn’t meant to be bipolar. I had my depression, and we were used to each other and we lived together for eight years or so, and although it tried to kill me a few times it (obviously) never succeeded. And that was going to be that. I was halfway through a book about how I recovered from it, found a new career and a new boyfriend, and how things were going to be perfect. They were not perfect. I was hypomanic. But it felt so right.

It’s been 15 days since my diagnosis. I have withdrawn from the world, spending most of the time at home. My best friend — or so I thought — doesn’t ask how I’m doing, his entire reaction so far to my announcement has been posting funny videos with dogs on my Facebook and some jokes when I mentioned semi-cryptically I wasn’t doing too well. I can’t decide what to do about it. Sometimes it makes me angry, sometimes — sad and depressed, but I keep on telling myself I have no right to expect people to behave in a certain way. Even if I called those people “best friend” more than once, and in public, it still doesn’t mean that I have the right to expect them to ask me how I am doing. But, you know, Buddha and all, I am only human. And I wish he’d come over, hug me and say he’s there for me. Fuck that acceptance shit. I wouldn’t ever leave him like that.

My boyfriend has been by my side since day one, and remains there. If anything, this seems to have made us closer. Three of my friends provide a lot of support; one of them completely unexpectedly (I thought he was going to be no more than a passing acquaintance in my life), the other two — proving my theory they were very sweet and good people. This makes the “betrayal” of the other friend something I can cope with. It doesn’t make me happy. But it makes me go on.

Another person in my life, who appeared there during my hypomanic phase, continues surprising and amazing me with his goodness and sweetness. I never expected him to be anything more than someone I work with. Instead he has been caring, sweet, helpful and simply good. How true the saying is that you recognise a true friend when you’re down and out rather than when you’re up and jolly. I obviously had no clue who my true friends were, and for this lesson I’d thank Thor, had I still believed in gods now that I’ve been told spiritual experiences are a symptom too.

How it all began

The story is long, and it goes on.

I originally became depressed in 2004. My grandmother died; my best friend moved to another town; my relationship ended. It’s normal to feel quite upset about such course of things, and to grieve for a few weeks and feel really sad and cry. It’s just that the grief never ended with me. After half a year I realised it has taken a life of its own, seemingly independent from the things that started it all. After a year all I wanted was to end my life, and at that point it dawned on me perhaps I could start with asking medical help FIRST.

The first medication I was prescribed, Lexapro, was a disaster. It caused total insomnia, total lack of libido (I could have sex, I just had no interest in it at all) and a really strange idea that I should cut skin off my skull because my brain is overheating. It was promptly changed to Aurorix (moclobemide) which… worked. Yes, it made me fat, yes, it made me dizzy, but my depression lifted enough for me to move to another country, realise the depression may not be debilitating but it is still around, and undertake psychotherapy. And so in 2006 I quit the medication, I was going to therapy and it looked like I was cured.

Everything seemed fine and I was medication free for five years. I had short depressive “mini-episodes”, especially if I was stressed and exhausted, but generally all looked pretty good from where I was standing. When I look back at those years, I think I can identify very mild hypomanias as well — hypersexuality, impromptu spending sprees, grandiosity all present. But I felt I was cured, and I was happy to tell everyone. Until I cracked under pressure from a bullying boss at a job that didn’t fulfill me creatively anymore, and one day I discovered 12 hours of sleep are not enough to get out of bed.

My antidepressant was reinstated by a family doctor treating me. I didn’t go to a psychiatrist, as the doctor told me he is qualified enough to help me out. I went back to therapy, and within nine months I felt I was back on my feet. I was aiding my medication regime with legal and illegal drugs. One time I almost killed myself by mixing the moclobemide with ecstasy, but hey, who would worry about such little things when there’s hypomania to be had? And there I was, fearless, happy, creative, energetic, sleepless, laughing until I cried in happiness, trying to change everyone’s lives and feeling invincible, chosen by gods and truly deeply special. In fact, I felt so fulfilled and happy that I quit all the drugs at the end of last year after my unfortunate ecstasy encounter. Cleanness, though, didn’t seem to change much in my sleep patterns. That lack of sleep worried me a bit (although I kind of liked the creative ideas in my head, I’d rather have them before 3am), so I started slowly tapering down my antidepressant. And all was quite jolly well. Until one day in August 2012, when I woke up depressed again, with no prior warning, and I was in panic, because I did not know what the hell is going on.

A few weeks later, when I realised depression is not going anywhere, I decided to go to my family doctor and demand a specialist appointment. He gave me one without hesitation; I think he realised he had to give up at that point. And the specialist was a nice, kind man, who asked me strange questions totally unrelated to depression. Did I have more sex than usual? (Well, my libido has always gone up and down, I thought.) Did I spend more money? (No, I said, I was poor and I knew that.) Did I get more creative and energetic? (Busted.) Did I get more social? (Busted.) Did I drink a lot? (Out of lives here, game over.) And a week later he told me I was bipolar.

Here I am on this new journey. It will take a while longer for me to come to terms with things. I am reading everything I can, at least in the times I can actually focus for an hour or two. I am taking my medication like the good boy I am. No more drinking for me (luckily Seroquel, which I have been prescribed, seems to remove any cravings of this sort). I continue staying away from all drugs as well. Sadly, so far, that hasn’t quite helped yet. But I am determined to become a victor yet again, and announce my amazingness to the world one more time.

The only times when my determination goes a bit below the surface is when I’m too busy being suicidal, but that’s a whole other story of course…