More crazy perks

Yesterday I found out about a new book: graphic memoir, “Marbles — Mania, Depression, Michelangelo and Me” by Ellen Forney.

I am yet to buy the book (none of the stores I normally use has it, and it’s only available on iBooks US) but one thing I liked is the interview on OPB (available on the page as audio file). There were many things that touched me about it. The fear of losing creativity was one of them — I share that one. The shift in identity — the “which bit is me and which bit is the illness?” is another one, and this Ellen resolves similarly to me, by realising there are no two separate beings, but just one — Ellen with disorder. And the crazy artist bit, which she describes in a way that is at once very amusing and touching.

Ellen talks about a time when she hugged a tree, crying, because she felt she had to do it. I could tell a similar story about myself, and one day I will. And we both seem to have had the same realisation: yes, it would seem crazy to people if they could see what we did… but… we ARE crazy. We are officially crazy artists!

In an odd way, this helps. I now have a good reason why my hair is whack and why I dress like that and why I do the things I do and why I write for four hours non-stop and then never touch the laptop for two months. Us, crazy artists, see: we do that. And as long as we manage not to kill ourselves, and to keep our ears intact, we might end up making some cool stuff.

In the meantime, I’ll be buying Ellen’s graphic memoir as soon as I have money to do so and it is available somewhere I can get it from without paying twice the price for shipping.

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Crazy for you

I have had a disturbing moment last week, when — despite being on two different medications and waiting for a third one — a certain deity still spoke to me. I told the deity in question to, I quote, fuck off and die, and he went quiet. And then I thought, a few hours later, obviously I am indeed crazy. But there are perks to that.

I am on speaking terms with a pagan god. If I said to many, many people that Jesus speaks to me, it wouldn’t be crazy, it is somehow only crazy when your imaginary friend has a different name. And my imaginary friend is quite an interesting one, and in a way at the beginning of the year I felt like the chosen one to be able to speak to him. Why not continue enjoying my chats with him instead of getting upset that there I am getting all crazy again?

“Suffering” from bipolar disorder isn’t always that painful. The hypomania for instance wasn’t painful to me at all. Being creative, having lots of sex, being happy and social isn’t the worst thing that has ever happened to me. Neither is being on first name terms with a pagan god, who may or may not be my father. There’s more than one god that you can call “our father”. And whether he lives in heaven, Valhalla or any other realm inaccessible to mere mortals isn’t really the most important bit.

I have a very unusual haircut, lots of tattoos and piercings in my face and in other body parts. Yes! I am crazy! I can do those things and nothing you can say about that applies to me! RESULT. (Well, I don’t really think about myself like that, but you get the picture, right?) Yes, perhaps it is mania that makes me dye my mohawk red, but today I was chatted up by a gentleman in his sixties, who congratulated me, mentioned his kids had hair like that 20 years ago and, generally, expressed his jealousy. If it’s mania that gets me interactions like that, I’ll keep my mania.

(Don’t ask me about the bit where I am depressed though.)

Memories

One of my friends said in disbelief: since this diagnosis it’s like this illness took over you! You used to be so positive and energetic, and now you’re depressed and sad! What the hell is going on?

Well.

It’s not like that at all.

I first felt depressed in 2004, and my depression had highs and lows all the time — what I would now call ultra-ultra-rapid cycling. Two hours of wanting nothing but death. Two hours of accomplishing things. Two hours of wanting nothing but death. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Try to kill yourself. Realise perhaps once things got so far, you might actually speak to a doctor FIRST. Get “cured” in 2006. Spend five years without medication.

But now that I look back at the last years, I can see long cycles of hypomania and mixed states/depression happening. Things that I thought were normal, but now that I know about bipolar disorder, they look a bit less normal.

My sudden infatuation with Jesus Christ in 2005. I thought Jesus was awesome, a beautiful long-haired bearded man with a message of peace, someone between a hippie and a very good person. In fact, a bit like me. In other news, I am and have always been an atheist. Well, always except those few months when I was suddenly totally into Jesus. Never happened before and never happened after. (Instead, I discovered neopaganism.)

My purchase of electric guitar, with full conviction I would become a guitar pro. Guitar gathering a layer of dust so thick you’d think it’s a tennis racket. My purchase of a USB DJ set, with full conviction I would become a laptop DJ. USB DJ set gathering a layer of dust. My sudden purchase of motorbike leather pants. Motorbike leather pants… you see the pattern. (I learned by now that if I have this sort of ideas, it is good to wait a few days before committing to them fully.)

Long hair. Mohawk. Buzz cut. Semi-long hair. Mohawk. Blonde hair. Black hair. Red hair. Ginger hair. Silver hair. (Very short-lived, it made me look 70.) Blonde streaks.

Not much of libido, one semi-interested encounter per week. Libido shooting through the roof, hunting for sex daily. Repeat both phases every now and then.

Being shy, withdrawn and terrified to be spoken to. Being a soul of the party and talking to everyone.

Sitting in my corner of the bar hoping nobody will notice me. Walking around and hitting on four different guys, getting them all to undress, starting to have sex in the middle of the bar with three of them.

Two-year creative break where I didn’t make any music, did a bit of writing. Followed by a creative spell in which I wrote 30 songs, made remixes, wrote half of a book (which I then got bored of), half of another book (which I also got bored of), had an idea for a book of short stories (subsequently abandoned), put out two albums (then decided to give up singing).

This sounds stable, right?

You know what’s fun?

Hypomania, that’s what. That’s when things get done.

I just finished another bipolar-related book: BrainBomb by Mark Fleming.

Mark’s book is something between a rather frenetic monologue-based autobiography, a novel and an account of bipolar illness in all its “glory”. Set in the 70s and 80s, with British punk scene at its background, it had to appeal to me with my sensitivities, and it didn’t disappoint. It shocked me a bit with the violence described – since I grew a good boy in Poland, I have no way of verifying which of those things actually happened, but Fleming’s book radiates passion and truth. The lead character, Neil Armstrong (who is aware of his name, so to say) is a very straight, very British lad, who’s trying to lead a life of drink, girls and music, only to be interrupted by depression and mania in un-equal amounts.

My bipolar mania has never reached quite the heights described here, but my drinking was quite close, and so were my sexual escapades. Neil doesn’t hide his STDs, risky romances with married ladies, drinking to the degree where his blood sample changes colour. At the same, and I hate to say that, “Brainbomb” shares one characteristic with Marya Hornbacher’s “Madness”: romanticizing the illness. Yes, Neil does end up in hospital, but it doesn’t seem too bad really, and his description of re-arranging shifts for the nurses because he thinks the chart is a colourful toy made me laugh out loud. Yes, Neil gets into risky situations, but except for one he emerges mostly unscathed, and the one time he does get into proper trouble is not connected to the illness, but to music and mushrooms. When Neil gets insomniac, he gets fantasy visions that by themselves form short stories from various historical periods. In a way, I’d worry that if I give this book to a teenager, he’s going to think this bipolar business is quite awesome — or quite inconsequential.

The best parts of Mark’s book aren’t the ones related to bipolar disorder; they’re the ones related to music. It is an amazing book about music, pubs, drinking and having (sometimes very dangerous) rock’n’roll fun. Oh yes, and the protagonist is bipolar, but aren’t we all a bit crazy down at heart, it almost says. In a weird way, I’m going to read Mark’s other book, “Bedlam” now, because I expect it to be really good, but I don’t understand why Chipmunka, a publisher “giving a voice to the survivors of mental illness” would put it out.

Medication

I am quite new to BP world in general, but the medication seems to be quite a controversial topic.

On one hand we have the general medical consensus that the meds are for life. This consensus, of course, is very handy to the big pharma. From their point of view it would be perfect if it could be concluded that generics need to be illegal and only the most expensive meds work. However, I have read studies that unmedicated BP disorder makes the brain literally shrink.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17617385

Lithium, however, makes grey matter amount increase:

http://www.nature.com/npp/journal/v35/n8/full/npp201041a.html

The idea that my brain would physically shrink is scary enough for me to give up on the idea of being “med free”. However I understand it isn’t so easy for everyone to accept.

The other group of patients, sometimes considering themselves to be feeling well, say that it is possible to go “med free” and that medications totally aren’t for life. The problem with that is that those people are generally speaking not psychiatrists. Instead, they are bipolar patients who might, or might not, be suffering from delusions and/or mania symptoms. As a person that had a very pleasant 7-month hypomanic period I can attest that I didn’t consider myself ill then, until I saw a list of hypomanic symptoms and I realised I had almost all of them in that period. It felt, in a word, amazing. I loved being happy, energetic, creative, sexy, self-confident, and being in personal contact with a deity who speaks to me didn’t even feel like hallucination, it just felt like I’ve been chosen, and I was the son of god. I didn’t consider myself ill. And remembering that makes me doubt if those people who swear they function unmedicated, are indeed healthy.

I have no problem with being on medication for the rest of my life. I am in the good situation where I don’t have to pay much for the medication in question. I don’t feel like I am worse or weaker person for being medicated — I don’t think cancer sufferers decide to go med free because they feel weak for needing chemotherapy, after all. But there are people who will get out of their way to tell you how unnecessary meds are. I don’t need to convince anyone to think my way; my advice applies only to myself. But if I already encountered such conflicting information having been officially diagnosed for a month… how much more is coming?

Cycling

My mood chart from November so far shows a slow mood swing up and then a slow mood swing down.

“Slow” is, of course, relative. After cycling every 3-4 hours, doing so every 2-3 days is a massive improvement and feels like stability — I can now cancel my appointments a day in advance rather than an hour. It isn’t totally stable, I suppose, but then, would I even know what totally stable is?

I’ve been asked by a friend, who got confused, how come I so suddenly got diagnosed with bipolar disorder and (seemingly) crashed into some sort of self-pitying well. Thing is, I am very good at hiding problems, and pretending everything is going well. I went for drinks (green tea for me, thank you) this Saturday with a friend, and mentioned my illness. “But you seem so well!” she said, somewhat confused. “I’d never guess you’re sick!” Well, that was the plan all along. But then I probably shouldn’t be upset when people, indeed, do not guess… until I get to the point where it is impossible to hide things, and suddenly hey presto, I am totally ill with what seems to be no prior warning.

I am generally known either to give up on things very easily, or to do them very well. I am working on my bipolar very hard. Taking medication precisely every 24 hours and never forgetting a dose; sleeping when I need to; mood charting when I need to; everything happens when it needs to and how it needs to. And it frustrates me that the results do not come fast enough for my liking. I want to be 100% fine NOW. A week ago, though, my doctor told me that it might take “months” (plural) for me to feel fine, and that in the meantime I might have to do small voluntary work for two hours per day, and avoid anything like excess stress. Which immediately caused me to get stressed. I want all or nothing, and I am not ready to wait for it. It seems, though, I’m going to get very little, and I will have to wait a very long time.

Apologies for a chaotic posting, I think it mirrors quite well what is going on in my head right now.

Acceptance?

I am kind of starting to get used to the idea I will spend the rest of my life suffering from a mental disorder.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not COMFORTABLE with the idea. I am not happy, I am not resigned, I am not walking around whistling to myself and going “yay me, being crazy is such fun”. But I am now less angry, and much, much less in denial. It unfortunately makes a lot of sense, especially since I read a story of a lady on one of the forums I frequent and she has pretty much the same symptoms as I do.

I am getting more stable every week, too. I actually had two days now of feeling… normal. It is, I guess, a sign of how bad I was before that whole two days in a row of feeling completely normal, without ups and downs as time goes by, are a special event worth noting. I am, of course, worrying about what that means. It could be a sign of impending hypomania.

This in a way is the hardest bit — doubting everything. I bought something today that wasn’t food — am I on a shopping spree?! I felt somewhat horny — hypersexuality OMG!!! I wouldn’t mind a beer — substance abuse warning!!! Etc. I haven’t quite learned yet how to find a middle ground among all the icebergs waiting for me. I am not sure yet what constitutes “normal”, seeing as last time I thought I found “normal” I didn’t find it strange at all that I was in personal contact with a deity. (My friends thought it was normal too, which shows that I am obviously surrounded by a bunch of crazies. Kidding! No, I am serious. But I love my bunch of crazy friends.)

2012, coming to an end, was a year of massive enormous changes. So was 2011. Some of those changes were for better. Some were for worse. Some — hard to say yet. But pretty much all of them were freaking massive. 2011 and 2012, as far as I am concerned, were more Hollywood blockbusters full of expensive-looking explosions than an episode of “At home with Nigella”. If possible, I would like to request politely that 2013 is a bit calmer. I love changes, new things, excitement, rollercoasters and bungee jumps, but seriously, I had enough in the last two years to last two average lifetimes. I’d like to quietly settle in a corner with my little disorder, blanket and teddy bear and get a bit of holiday from life. Please?