I did a bad thing…

I did a bad thing.

I got sick, and then I started getting better, then I stopped. I didn’t get better. I just stopped.

I’m in illness limbo. I’m much better than I was when I was severely unwell, but much worse than I was “before”, before I ever got sick. Well okay, maybe not much worse, but worse. I’m not going forwards, I’m not going back. I’m not bad enough to complain to my doctors, but I’m not where I thought I’d be, back to “normal”.

It’s been a long time now since I got sick, and I’m definitely well over the acute phase of crippling anxiety, black depression and the odd weirdly happy and effective days of mania.

I was just commenting yesterday that I never have dysfunctional anxiety anymore; just regular, everyday person anxieties that are reasonable and well founded and manageable. But I was wrong. At that very moment it was sneaking up on me again and bam! it got me!! But only a bit dysfunctional. I don’t have the darkness and hopelessness of depression, just the sluggishness and lack of motivation and tiredness…but even that waxes and wanes giving me better days and worse days due to no particular reason. Mania continues to be a little brightness on the horizon that breaks through any residual depressive effects and gives me a little happy and useful and wish-I-was-like-this-all-the-time day or so, here or there!

I’m medicated like you wouldn’t believe, and a recent experiment my psychiatrist and I tried of reducing my meds has shown me very clearly that without these meds, I’d be right back in the thick of my acutely unwell stage!! It’s not like they aren’t working; they are, they really are! My moods have been a very difficult case to crack and it has taken 4 medications for mood and months to years of appointments to get on top of the main symptoms. And they work. I can, somewhat distantly now cos it’s been a while for some, remember how I was before and after starting each one, which may just be my saving grace down the track when I, like every bipolar patient, get to the stage where I think I might just be better off not taking my meds. One request of you, friend: don’t be the person who suggests I should go off my meds. The consequences of taking on that responsibility may well be more than you can bear. You take my life in your hands if you suggest any such thing. For all I complain about where I am, I always know very clearly that I would be so much worse off without my meds. No question. Ever. Life isn’t perfect but taking away the crutch holding me up isn’t going to help. So save it, keep it, sit on it, hold it in, swallow it; you are not helping anyone, almost ever, by making any such suggestion. You are warned.

But here we are. I’m not sick, but I’m not as well as I thought I’d be. As I hoped I’d be, planned I’d be, “knew” I’d be. Isn’t this the dilemma of every patient with a chronic illness? I go to the doctor with my illness, the doctor says okay I’ll treat your illness, I hear “I’ll get you back to normal”, and go on my way happily ever after. I think I’m presenting the doctor with a chest infection that he can fix, and then return me to my previous health. But this is not a curable disease. The treatment works, the doctor says I’ve treated your illness, I look forward to getting back to being me, my old self, and then, as the Goons would say…suddenly, nothing happened!! Yes the treatment worked. Yes the doctor has done his job. But this illness doesn’t go away. Because that’s not how it works. The illness stays. The treatment stays. The illness has just been put back to bed for a while. But there are some residual effects that haven’t been buried and they remain and irritate me. Because that’s how it works. I don’t know what it would take to get every last little bit of it under the surface…I don’t think I want to know because it either isn’t possible, or the trade off would be too severe.

I’m starting to think “normal” isn’t a reality that I’ll ever reach again. I’m starting to think that my life has been permanently changed. I’m starting to think I’m stuck here.

I don’t know.

All I know is I’m here, and everyone seems to want me to get fitter, healthier, stronger, slimmer or shall we shall less large (keeping it to reachable goals), more energetic, more involved in my own life, more something or other. And don’t mistake me, I want that too. I want it all. It’s just that I can’t see how. I can’t see how to get there. Some people say, well you made it this far through, I’m sure you can do it. But my little/big secret is, all I did so far was hang on. Through all of it, I didn’t really do anything that active; I just hung on. Now the goals require something more active and I don’t know if I can do it. I’m not sure that I can do what’s required. I guess that’s why I’ve stalled here. The next step possibly requires more than I can give.

Aaaaahhhh. Sigh. I did something bad. I stopped getting better. Can I start again?

Advertisements

Mania

[Written 20th October 2014, updated along the way, most recently 28th July 2015 ]

There’s a question that I’ve been trying to answer ever since I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder and experienced the first obvious manic episode: how can I know when an episode of mania is coming on?

I have been working on answering this question for a while. Hence the start date for writing. It’s taken time, experience, reflection and I’m still not there yet. Here’s what I’ve got so far.

It’s not like people imagine. There’s no flash from the sky that strikes you down in the middle of your ordinary day changing you in an instant from deeply depressed to wildly happy.

There’s no sudden chemical reaction that causes an immediate switch from happy Harry to sad Sally. You won’t be mid conversation with me and I’ll sudden lash out with anger or anything dramatic like that. I promise. I also won’t suddenly slump into deep depression.

It’s much more subtle than that.

I have bipolar disorder type 2, or manic depression. As opposed to bipolar disorder type 1, or classic bipolar, which involves intense highs followed by agonizing lows.

In the six months or so before my diagnosis of bipolar, I would exist mostly in varying depths of depression with the odd dilly dally into sub-mania, or half strength, quarter strength mania. So sub-manic that I didn’t even know it was happening for the first few episodes! It was like a partial lessening of my depression, not very distinguishable from my usual depression. It certainly wasn’t the full mania thing; I didn’t get the happy, carefree, superhero mood to balance my sorrows. I actually noticed a worsening of my depression when the lighter mood ended rather than noticing a lightening of my depression. I felt that I was having cyclical worsening of my depression, whereas the mental health nurse in ED saw a recurring very weak mania.

Moods don’t change 50 times a day. I should know. When I was first provisionally (meaning this-is-what-we-think-it-is-but-we’ll-wait-to-see-before-we-commit-to-the-title) diagnosed with bipolar disorder I was in a phase called rapid cycling. As it kind of suggests, rapid cycling is where your mood cycles/changes rapidly! Pretty self explanatory.

What this meant for me literally was about once a week over three or four weeks I would descend into the big black pit from where I could see no possible exit other than stopping living in it. That’s what being suicidal is all about; utter hopelessness. It’s awful and very hard to bear.

But then I’d be a bit better again, and think, oh that wasn’t so bad. If it happens again I’ll definitely tell someone, but I’m okay now so it’s all good. Except that each time I went in it was worse! And worse, and worse until I was done with it! Luckily I had an appointment with my GP on the day I was done with it so that instead of being done, I went to hospital and you know the recovery story after that. Or if you don’t, it’s time to hit the archives!

So rapid cycling. Once a week, not once a day, 10 times a day or anything fantastical. That’s rapid cycling.

For the “regular” patient with bipolar 1…weird statement, I’m sure every one is different and there’s nothing regular about it!…mood changes might be more likely to occur every few months or even once or less per year. Maybe every few years once a person is medicated. But when they come, they can be a serious force to be reckoned with!

So my original question: how do you know when it’s coming?

I’m still not completely sure.

I’ve found that needing less sleep or unusually restless sleep, waking many times in the night and waking for good in the early morning hours is a sign of mania, which doesn’t rest, and wants to be on the move the whole time.

I usually have a couple of days of being more irritated/frustrated/annoyed about small things than usual. Ask my poor husband! I stub my toe and scream in full on rage at the pain and the stupidness of myself to do such a dumb, painful thing. I mess something up and totally lose it, raging at myself for my incompetence. I just can’t tolerate anything less than perfection in myself. I take a wrong turn in the car, get lost, run late and just burn up the road in furious outrage at my incapability to do anything right. I fumble my keys, my phone slips out of my fingers, 1 drop one of the 10 things I’m balancing in my arms while I walk blind down the stairs and write myself off as a useless, worthless human being! When actually I’m a regular human being possessed of a mood that makes me think I can do a lot more than I a) can or b) should.

At this point, the best way to end things and to not keep on getting worse and worse, is to go to bed and sleep. For however long it takes to wear off the mania.

It’s truly a strange disorder. In essence, this is what depression is, being upset and down on yourself, but this time instead of getting melancholy about being useless, I get mad, really mad! Not at you, don’t worry. The majority is forcefully muttering stupid, idiot, fool, dummy at myself under my breathe. The rest is taken out on my poor hubby, who tends to have a bad habit of laughing when I’m this mood and massively exaggerating the events of the day. Of course the more he laughs, the closer I get to bashing him with the rolling pin! Once the mood passes we laugh about it together, but at the time he makes me furious!!! Livid!!!

Then there is getting teary about silly things more than usual, although that can come with the depression cycle too. I’m naturally an easy crier, which goes against my attempt to be cool, calm and collected! I think I can see now that when these PMS-ish symptoms start, it’s time to take a breath and check what’s really going on. I say PMS-ish cause that’s how it kind of feels, although I maintain that I don’t get (much!) PMS…my husband prefers to not answer so who can tell?!?

Add some annoying heart palpitations which make me nervous about being anxious again and you have a pretty complete picture.

I suppose the more important question is, how do I know when I’m a bit manic? Easy! I have had some pretty perfect examples!

One day a while back, I woke up spontaneously at 5am without an alarm, feeling fully rested and completely ready to hit the floor running and get things moving! This from a famously unlover of mornings!
I had motivation, organisation, energy to boot and I’m full on into my job list!!! Check check check check check..what’s next???

All this despite being exhausted for the previous 4 days, not getting out of bed until 5pm one day a few days back and having a 4 hour “nap” two days before missing half of a family birthday! Whatever comes my way, today I’m all over it!
Before 8am I’d been for two laps around the park; most days I wouldn’t even be awake yet! And I never walk! I catch the bus/train/tram/friends car/taxi before I walk, except when Chester’s making an effort to get me out of the house and we do a slow stroll around the park…today I was striding! I was considering jogging! Today I’m on fire!

But I have to keep a careful check that I don’t get too cray-cray, too outgoing and chatty, too effervescent and bubble off the reservation! I don’t want to wander into the real manic territory of getting all spendy with the money I’m not earning, getting over confident with betting/gambling (not really a worry is my theory since I never do that anyway…), being over-enthusiastic/ambitious to the point of being a bit delusional or putting myself in dangerous situations that I think I can handle or just physically burning myself out being bouncy and happy and carefree and all over it!

The other classic manic thing is getting a bit over-affectionate…Chester won’t complain, as long as I keep it within the house!

And one perk: I’m so active, and busy PLUS I don’t get hungry as much and don’t wear out at all! So mania. Love it! Love it more when it stays more than a day or two but it’s usually pretty short lived. Love it the most when it isn’t followed by a big black lump of depression but that can be a common switch. In general, I’d prefer if I didn’t get depressed at all or manic at all. I love the energy of mania but it can also make me irritable, restless and impulsive and I start to get claustrophobic and nervous about all my typical old scary movie type phobias. And there’s nothing much I love about depression. So after an episode of sub-mania it’s back to the psychiatrist for a review and a new opinion of what to do next. I’m guessing there’s a lithium or valproate dose increase in the works…and that’s okay with me! Whatever it takes to get back to a comfortable holding pattern of “normal” moods. The aim is always for the lows to not be as low, and the highs not as high. Middle ground; that’s what we’re chasing. Here’s to it!

So, fortunately/unfortunately this has been the story of my bipolar. Fortunately I don’t get the massive mania with delusions, super hero thoughts and even hallucinations. Unfortunately my mood swings tend to be often, like weeks and months and they do throw me off balance each time. Despite what I’ve tried to learn about my mind and my body from my experience so far, and the fact that I know mood swings will come in spite of my meds, they still creep up and catch me unawares. And so far they do unfortunately seem to be getting bigger and more intense each time…but I won’t borrow trouble before it comes.

The last question is how can other people tell that I’m manic? My husband has some answers for that list! I may be a bit short with you, or seem a bit edgy and I will be less patient than usual. I’ll be more sociable than usual but it’ll be a bit fragile if things go wrong. I try to keep it together for everyone else but sometimes some sharp answers slip through my filter; I apologise in advance!

I can’t seem to find my balance

I can’t seem to find my balance, by Danika Sanderson, written 28/1/2014

I can’t seem to find my balance.

Between living and dying, between singing and sighing,

I can’t seem to find my balance.

 

I can’t seem to find my balance.

Between coming and going, from keeping to throwing,

I can’t seem to find my balance.

 

I can’t seem to find my balance.

Between laughing and crying, between loving and fighting,

I can’t seem to find my balance.

 

I can’t seem to find my balance.

From grinning to frowning, from swimming to drowning,

I can’t seem to find my balance.

 

I can’t seem to find my balance.

I’m here and I’m there, “have to” be everywhere,

I can’t seem to find my balance.

 

I can’t seem to find my balance.

I’m up and I’m down then I’m flat on the ground,

I’m carrying the weight of the world around,

I can’t seem to find my balance.

 

I can’t seem to find my balance.

From gorging on food to soothe my mood,

From guilting myself about eating that food,

From kicking myself to the curb and back

For eating too much and getting too fat,

I can’t seem to find my balance.

 

I can’t seem to find my balance.

From “too tired to care” and “life is not fair”

To “how lucky am I to have such a great guy”

To “what if I fail?” and “what if they hate me”

To “I am so happy” and “they must all rate me”,

I can’t seem to find my balance.

 

I can’t seem to find my balance.

From being a friend to hiding away

And avoiding the customary “how was your day?”,

I can’t seem to find my balance.

 

I can’t seem to find my balance.

From confident speaker to introvert girl,

From stomach of steel to wanting to hurl,

From conscientious to “that’ll do fine”,

I’m “stressed out I’m late” but still never on time,

From anything for anyone to “sod them all”,

From standing up straight to curled in a ball,

I can’t seem to find my balance.

 

I can’t seem to find my balance.

My logic says go but my heart rate is thunder,

My sane brain agrees but the renting asunder

Of nerves once so stable but now run amuck,

Is leaving me feeling like one sitting duck!

I can’t seem to find my balance.

 

I can’t seem to find my balance.

Can’t walk in the dark, but running’s okay,

“Just push through the barriers and all’s well”, they say,

“Just exercise, eat well, sleep well and drink tea”,

“Avoid caffeine and sugar and alcohol’s three”,

“Just keep a good attitude, you’ll be alright”,

But what if they’re wrong and I lose this huge fight?

I can’t seem to find my balance.

 

I can’t seem to find my balance.

“What if…?”, “What then…?”, “What next?” I wonder,

The evils, the outcomes, the dark side I ponder.

I can’t see the good, the pleasant, the happy,

But then all at once, I become happy chappy!

I can’t seem to find my balance.

 

I can’t seem to find my balance.

I’m inspired; I’m keen as mustard to learn,

Then gloom, disappointment, my hopes they burn,

Again motivated; success I now yearn,

But failure still looms at every turn.

I can’t seem to find my balance.

 

I can’t seem to find my balance.

Why cannot I just for ONE day be level?

What would it feel like to sing and to marvel?

Instead of dwelling on doom and gloom

And walking around restless from room to room,

I can’t seem to find my balance.

 

I can’t seem to find my balance.

I remember now often the days gone past,

When balance was normal, expected to last

All day every day and all life through,

I’d never have thought I’d be like this, did you?

I can’t seem to find my balance.

 

And yet there’s still hope at the bottom of the jar,

That “one day”, “ONE day”, maybe not far,

Maybe real close, maybe real soon,

I’ll be singing my song to a different tune.

 

A tune that thrills, and lilts, and strains,

To glorify One who holds the reigns,

Who shows to me His Love and Care

And helps me realise the burden’s to share.

Who shows me that balance is always found,

When God comes first and is followed around,

By everything else, that’s solid ground

For finally gaining my balance.

Copyright Danika Sanderson, 2014 – reproduction only with written permission from the author.

I wrote this poem all in an afternoon on my way home from work one day.

I was getting sick of my mood swings, of depression, of anxiety, and was dearly wanting to go back in time to when life was running on an even keel.

I’d never realised what a privilege it was just to live life with regular emotions, regular response to stress and plenty of serotonin and noradrenaline.

So I started thinking this thought in my mind; I can’t seem to find my balance.

I can’t seem to find my balance. Sometimes I’m full of life and running around, sometimes I’m suffering from suicidal thoughts and wanting to escape life. But I seem to be missing the middle ground where life is straightforward and easier.

I started thinking, I can’t seem to find my balance – I’m up and I’m down…what rhymes with down? Around, ground, mound…what works with I’m up and I’m down? I’m flat on the ground! Boo Yeah! I’ve got myself one verse.

And so it went on. I raced home and grabbed out an old school book and started scribbling. I wrote most of this poem exactly as it appears here; somehow I just got on a roll. Some verses needed some tinkering to make more sense. Some verses got put together, some got taken apart.

I’m really proud of this poem. Not only do I find it a fun rhyming scheme, based partially on limericks and partially on Dr Seuss-type rhyme, but I’m really pleased with how the lines came together to tell the story of where I was at this time. The fun rhyming contrasts with the serious content, and helps me feel better about how I’m feeling.

I’m still kind of in this space now, even though it’s nearly 4 months later. Balance takes a long time to achieve, as it turns out. I have good days, I have bad days. I had a couple of weeks up to last Sunday when I got ahead of myself with how well I was feeling and how much I was achieving and thought I was cured! Then the last week sucker punched me and landed me in bed for most of the week, having 2 naps a day every day!!

So balance, a tricky thing to achieve. Elusive, delicate, difficult, like walking along a fence or tightrope. A fickle wind blowing one way, a strong breeze blowing the other way and off you go smashing down and breaking apart on the ground! Then it takes time and effort and emotion to get back up, brush off the debris, clamber all the way back up onto the fence, gather together your scraps of confidence and faith that there is a happy ending awaiting up ahead, and take the first step again! Nursing your injuries and disappointments, carrying baggage from previous attempts, trying hard to have hope and enthusiasm again.

So today is Day One after that long week of tiredness, total lack of enthusiasm and motivation, crippling lack of energy and a fat lot of blergh!!

We’re putting that behind, pushing on to find a new plan, a new way forward to try to get up on the fence, hands out balancing my weight, eyes fixed forward, trying for hope.

A great friend gave me this awesome print to go with my poem that I now have framed next to my dining table:

just balancing, girl on rocks in heels

A gorgeous print that I have framed in my living room

Onwards and upwards!! Balance, it’s time. I’m here waiting, I’m ready. Let’s go!!