Category Archives: Diagnosis

Bipolar Me

I wrote about whether decisions were made by me, or by bipolar, a few days ago here. I was conflicted about my own decision-making over the years, especially by those decisions I now know to be poor ones. Today I came to new insight with the help of a wise one. I decided to let myself off the hook and let decisions made by bipolar moods stand as they are. If I was manic, I was manic, and the decision is from bipolar. There is a “bipolar me” that has been working in the background basically my whole life. As my mood fluctuated – regularly – I made decisions and experienced life with this persona. Bipolar me did crazy things and poor things, and sometimes there was good that came out of it. And sometimes not. But there is a bipolar me that is in ascendancy most of the time. There is no “me” and “bipolar.” There is bipolar me.

I’m just getting to understand a little bit about this bipolar me. She, if there is a gender, tries to make decisions with her gut, which doesn’t work most of the time. Though it is the seat of compassion and the infamous “gut instinct” that people tout, I can’t trust it. It has brought me heartache and mistakes, and it has led bipolar me to get close to suicide, oh, at least a few dozen times. My brain I can’t trust as it is sick with broken neurotransmitters and lies to me daily, often through gut instinct. But my chest, where my heart and lungs lie, has brought me out of danger with reason and with a survival instinct. It reminds me that all bodies and consciousnesses strive to stay alive. I can trust that. I know that my heart and lungs will work until my dying breath – hopefully later rather than sooner (when I’m thinking from my chest and not from my gut, which says the opposite at least once a day).

My goal is to understand bipolar me as a sentient being. What does it mean that I am bipolar All.The.Time. and have been for decades? What does that mean for making decisions into the future, i.e., can my gut and brain be retaught or retrusted when stability is finally reached?

So cheers to bipolar me! Now I have an answer to who has been responsible for my life. It’s bipolar me. And sometimes the mood has pushed me into unhealthy decisions, and sometimes I’ve thought with my chest and made better ones. But I’ve been bipolar the whole time, and that’s who I am.

A Sick Brain?

A lot is going on in my head right now. Regret over decisions made, decisions I’m (wrongly?) chalking up to bipolar moods, calling it a sick brain that has led me to where I am today. All of this was refuted, well, by my therapist today.

Cultivating curiosity in my past because of prompts from a book has led me to judgment rather than increased curiosity or empathy, or even self-compassion. It’s as though all I can see is young me making decisions that may have been influenced by bipolar or just by youth. Can’t tell. I see a little bit older me trying out discernment but now questioning the decisions I made based on careful deliberations and consultation, and instead see only bipolar. I see current me managing bipolar as my whole life.

Not a lot of optimism here, folks.

I think more slowly and make fewer connections than I used to. I don’t think my intuition is working anymore, since diagnosis. I can’t trust what my brain is doing, throwing out mood states and lies one day, and then out of nowhere I get a month of stability for the first time EVER, only to have it ripped away by med changes again. I’m told that having trouble thinking can partly be a side effect of meds. OK. It can partly be aging. Not that I’m old, just entering middle age actually. I guess I’m ok with that? I haven’t heard that as a “symptom” of aging at this stage. I definitely have had trouble thinking ever since a hysterectomy led to menopause brain, but nothing as drastic as after falling precipitously from the manic episode into a suicidal depression that led to a bipolar diagnosis.

Nothing leads to saying I have a sick brain. But isn’t that what bipolar disorder is? Neurons are firing when they shouldn’t or not firing when they should, both of which affect mood states and functioning – and thinking. Medically I have a sick brain, and I’ve had one for 20+ years. My mood states have fluctuated regularly. How can I trust that _I_ made the decisions all through my life, and not bipolar mood state me? And if it was bipolar me, do I hold myself accountable for those decisions, or discount them as bipolar brain?

None of this was adequately answered for me today. My therapist, I think, tried to get me to understand that I am not a bipolar brain, though we joked at the beginning that you can think you’re in control and then – boom! – your brain says it is. So which is it? Is it an existential _I_ making the decisions, or a medically sick brain decidedly influencing the decisions?

We didn’t get as far as answering that question. He did encourage me to be curious about the good that came out of the decisions and not just question and judge the decisions. I still can’t be sure it wasn’t a sick brain that made them.

Bipolar Is Only One Part of Me

I have to keep telling myself that. Over and over. I even have a post-it on the bathroom mirror to remind me.

So much of the time I feel overwhelmed by the bipolar. The moods. The mood changes. Taking meds now only three times a day. Managing schedules and routines to anchor my life to manage the bipolar.

It’s easy to be defined by mental illness. It takes everything you have to fight the lies it tries to tell you, such as death is preferable. It takes all your energy to _manage_ the illness.

All of this combined makes me think I am my bipolar. It has taken over my life, even to moving to another state to live with family for more support. My thoughts are always clouded by bipolar. It’s a brain disease. I feel like Matchbox 20’s hits “Unwell” and “Bent.”

In NAMI circles, and other mental health advocacy circles, we say I Have bipolar, not I am bipolar. There are arguments about this because of how much of your life is affected by a brain disease.

But if I listen to advocates, I have to remember that I have values and character and personality traits, even though bipolar colors how I can use them and how I live in the world.

So bipolar is just one part of me. I have bipolar. I have to tell myself this over and over each day.

My Story – A Summary

Hi! I’m Deb, and I blog at http://SuddenlyBipolar.Wordpress.com

I am an ordained Presbyterian minister. I like to think of myself as a Mental Health Advocate as my current calling, since I can’t pastor a church anymore because of how my Bipolar Type 1 with psychotic features manifests. I also have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which just exacerbates the Bipolar.

I’m a lover of movies, books, politics and sociology. I’d like to do a PhD in Sociology of Religion if my brain will let me. It’s hard to read, so we’ll see what’s in store for me in the next few years.

I recently moved back in with family to get extra support. Even with a strong support system, it wasn’t enough to keep me from being lonely where my thoughts and feelings would take over to make me suicidal and bouncing in and out of the hospital over 30 times in the last 7 years.

I was diagnosed in September 2010 after falling from a manic high (August being a common time for mania for me) into a suicidal depression, my first and definitely not my last. Among my therapist, psychiatrist and me, we figured out I had my first depressive episode at 13 when I had major back surgery for scoliosis. Manic delusions may have started as early as 9, however. I had hallucinations in 2 psychotic episodes my first year in college at age 17, a common time for bipolar to raise its ugly head.

I spent my young and middle adult years in primarily hypomania, some mania and fewer depressions. I had a vibrant spirituality that people thought was a gift, but was really mania. Oh, well.

As I said, I was diagnosed in 2010, a year into my first solo pastorate after years as an associate pastor or youth director. I loved and was good at my job. It’s been a huge loss and sore spot that I can’t pastor anymore. Over the next 7 years I had amazing care from my psychiatrists and therapists, and a strong support system. But I still bounced in and out of a psychiatric hospital over 30 times, for as few as 3 days, and as much as 2 months. I saw the darkest days, despite love and support. It took Years to get the right meds and every time I went into the hospital we tried something or tweaked something. And my psychiatrist outside did too, though she was more conservative.

Finally, I spent 3 months at my family’s home relearning how to care for myself (cooking, cleaning, exercise) and getting concentrated support and love. Eventually, together, we concluded that I should move to Texas from Chicago-land to continue support, be around people, and at least temporarily live in community. I hope to live a mile away soon and still get the benefit of daily support but independent living again.

I’ve been with my family for two months now and we are slowly making our way into community. I don’t feel settled. I miss my old support system. I sobbed leaving my main psychiatrist. I’ve been in a day program and inpatient for a few days. But I’m looking forward now to beginning a new life with meaningful activities.

Early in my diagnosed life, I accepted the bipolar as something I would have to manage for the rest of my life. The bipolar and anxiety are just a part of me, though sometimes taking care of them seems to overwhelm me. I remind myself they are just a part of me. I have routines and schedules. I advocate for myself with providers, and I talk with my support system regularly, sometimes (ok, most of the time) daily. I use coping skills like Radical Acceptance, Mindfulness, Thought Defusion, and Committed Action toward My Values (from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy). I also use Dialectical Behavioral Therapy skills such as Mindfulness, Emotion Regulation, and Distress Tolerance. I also volunteer at various places, though it’s hard and I have a hard time holding even one for longer than a couple months. Maybe I haven’t found the right place for my passion yet.

I am open about my struggles and triumphs on social media. I educate about and offer resources on bipolar on social media (such as my page on Facebook, Suddenly Bipolar). Advocating for others seems as important as advocating for myself. My blog is one way I do that by sharing my thoughts, feelings and journey. People tell me that reading about these things is helpful, and I’m glad. But really it’s my journal. 🙂

I hope to meet you in the blogosphere or on Facebook or Twitter. Together we can end the stigma and support one another. Find your voice!

Cross posted on MyLoudBipolarWhispers.com as part of the “There’s Glory in Sharing Your Story” campaign.

Anxiety Blows

I am struggling with an extraordinary amount of anxiety – 8-9 on a scale of 10. It has been high since October before I tried living on my own again. But with the move to Texas, the anxiety has been my constant companion and consistently high. And so I am in a day program to deal with mood lability, anxiety, and depression.

Today in program I had a nice meltdown about my anxiety. I figured a few things out. It’s related to losing my independence because I feel that I’m a failure at taking care of myself. The bipolar and anxiety and depression have won and I’m failing. I’m buying into the stigma that mental illness is a moral failure or weakness of character.

It doesn’t matter that I would tell people that their illness is biological and a disease they had no say in contracting. It doesn’t matter that I would tell people that asking for help and getting more support is a strength not a weakness. It doesn’t matter that I would tell people that living with mental illness is brave and courageous.

Because deep down inside I don’t believe it. I‘m a failure at living independently and taking care of Continue reading

June at the Hospital

Well, I ended up in the hospital again after not making to my next dr appointment. And then 4 days after that discharge I ended up going in for suicidal and homicidal thoughts – something I’ve never experienced before. I had gone to NAMI’s Living Room where you are screened by a counselor, then talk with a peer specialist, then get screened again by a counselor. All of which ended up with an ambulance ride and then waiting for a transfer from the ER to my psych hospital.

Sigh.

At least that hospitalization was mercifully short – 3 days. There was a treatment team meeting about me and to be honest, I don’t think anything important came out of it. They think I’m too comfortable at the hospital and they want to make things uncomfortable to help my treatment. And they want no big med changes. And pointed out that the longer I am at the hospital, the more likely I am to get sicker. It’s not like I WANT to be at the hospital. Just that it’s a safe place when I’m not feeling safe.

In addition, while I was in my first June hospitalization I had extensive psych testing done, which came back yesterday. I talked with my psychiatrist about it yesterday and we agreed it was bunk. We know what we’re dealing with since we’ve been working with it for 5 years together now.

Sigh.

I’m still re-entering the real world from the long hospitalization, as well as the shorter ones. I’ve got people I’m checking in with, tasks to do each day. I’m taking it slow and giving myself lots of credit. I’m actually doing pretty well with this plan. Slowly I’ll add back in the gym and starting in my plan to talk about mental health in churches. But no rushing. Got to get back in the swing of things, gently.

Short Hospitalization

Bipolar Disorder is a biological brain disease that often has environmental triggers. I ended up in the hospital for suicidal plans and intent again this week, though only for a few days (yay! a short one!). My psychiatrist thinks the anxiety I was holding about my mom’s breast cancer surgery a few weeks ago had a chance to come out as well as the fear, and that destabilized my mood. Sounds about right to me.

Even though I was doing pretty well, pretty stable, two weeks ago I started feeling suicidal again due to the environmental trigger. I am grateful for a short time in the hospital, yet worry that I will end up in again as has often happened after short hospitalizations.

Bipolar sucks.

I have to say that having an environmental trigger took the stigma and shame away from a hospitalization for me. Usually I feel embarrassed to be back in the hospital, even though the staff is generous and welcoming. But this felt like a tune-up instead of a personal failure. But I guess that’s a whole other post, that shame of being in the hospital for the twenty-somethingth time.