Thursday, October 21, 2010

Overwhelming Feeling

Overwhelming feeling  
Overwhelming feeling
Just don't feel that I can make it  
No idea how much longer I can take it
Overwhelming feeling  
Overwhelming feeling  

All by myself playing with a knife  
Toying with the idea of taking my life 

Overwhelming feeing  
Overwhelming feeling 

For oh so long I'd been digging a hole  
Now all the soil's covering my soul

Overwhelming feeling  
Overwhelming feeling 

Was feeling so good, feeling so high  
Now so down I only can sigh 

Overwhelming feeling  
Overwhelming feeling  

My mind, my me changes all the time  
How can I take it, I can't find the line 

Overwhelming feeling  
Overwhelming feeling  
Overwhelming feeling ... 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Oops, Don't Stop Those Meds

So. A week ago Friday I went in to see my trusted Doc. I couldn't wait to tell him how well I was doing. And I was doing really well. Had been for a solid two weeks. He welcomed the news.

Then we went over the results of my latest blood tests. Everything was good. Everything was normal. Except one. There was one hormone that was much higher than it should be and that was a side effect of Risperidone, one of my first line of defense meds against the Polar Bears. So we decided, since I'd been feeling so "normal", so good, to stop the Risperidone. My main medication, Lithium, should be able to handle things, he figured.

So that's what I did, I stopped the Risperidone.

Saturday was fine, another normal day.

Sunday I felt a little off, a little glum, more impatient, some paranoid thoughts began to creep in. Sleep that night was broken with many odd dreams. For hours I tossed and turned.

Monday I felt really off. Totally negative, impatient, irritable. I couldn't understand the contrast to what I'd been feeling. I got even more down because of that. At some point I realized what it must be - the meds. That night I took Risperidone again.

It wasn't in time.

I think I've described how manic episodes take over one's mind; runaway ideas, imagines, visions and so on racing through with little power to control them. Depressive episodes can be the same, though the thoughts and images are negative and there's not the same energy. Then there are the mixed episodes; the full on power of mania but not fun creative thoughts, instead very, very negative thoughts.

Somewhere back in the beginning, in describing why I first admitted myself to hospital, I believe I described my problem with suicidal thoughts. This is the danger for me and this is what returned Monday night and through Tuesday. 

I was thinking on the way to work one morning this past week how to describe this episode of suicidal thoughts. As for the intensity level, they're not your garden variety "woe as me, things are going really bad, I don't want to go on" type thoughts. I've had those thoughts lots during some dark days in the past and those are to these suicidal thoughts as Bud Light is to 80 proof rum, like children's aspirin to pure morphine. Just not in the same league. These were incredibly intense, graphic and powerful. Negative thoughts, again super intense, played as background music. It's just a really wild mental ride, especially when it comes on so out of the blue and on the heels of feeling so frickin' good the previous few weeks or so.  

And virtually uncontrollable. All those little 'coping mechanisms' and stuff you're supposed to use to "re-focus" negative thoughts and stuff? Bowls those over like a twenty pound bowling ball smashing though pins made of crystal. The thoughts of methods, scenes, instruments and so on come so fast and furious and vividly, like creative thoughts do in a 'good' manic episode. Just unstoppable. Relentless. And the suicidal thoughts are just as appealing as the 'good' creative thoughts. I want them. I welcome them.

But part of me recognizes the danger. I know I can't go out in a state like that or talk to anyone. I have to stay away from everything. I don't even want to go into the kitchen. All I can do is stay in my room with the lights out and try to block things out as much as possible. But through all that there's one thing and one thing only that's effective - focusing on my guardian angel. Somewhere in this violent tempest of suicidal thoughts and negative thoughts there's this tiny little voice, this tiny shred of reason that remembers her. And all I could do was repeat over and over to just hang in until her sixteenth birthday. To put all plans on hold until at least then. It took ... I don't know how long to get things settled down, I have no sense of time when this is happening. But I did it, just by focusing on that one thing, on my guardian angel.  

It's really taxing though. Coming down off an episode like that is like ... hell, I don't know. I felt tired for days after.

Wednesday the Risperidone started kicking in again and by Thursday I felt fine. Friday I was back to happy and singing out loud and all those signs of being in top spirits.

So from shiny-happy, walking on sunshine one Friday to deepening darkness and not-wanting-to-live-another-day on Tuesday and back to shiny-happy, walking on sunshine on Friday again ... man, that's a wild ride even by my standards. Phew!

So. The meds. Be really, really careful with the meds.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Bears in Hibernation

There is a normal. I'd forgotten what it felt like, I'd forgotten how it felt not to be in one chemically driven state or another, I'd forgotten what it felt like not to feel myself defined by how something  - something wrong in my brain - was making me feel.

There are various levels of depressed states. There are various levels of manic states. And there are the dreaded mixed states. Mixed in there could be "normal" but in the swirling chaos of the other states coming and going and crossing over, "normal" gets lost and barely registers on one's consciousness.

The last four years have been particularly intense as far as changing states goes and greatly distanced "normal" from my memory. It was something that I thought I'd have to completely redefine and relearn, a task that both excited me and daunted me. There were times I didn't think I could do it.

But lo and behold, something has arrived. It feels familiar. I have to reach back a long way to find a point of comparison, but it's there; something I feel as normal. Not down, not up, and certainly not mixed.

It's hard to put a finger on exactly what turned the corner. Pharmaceutical help is playing a big role for sure. My dosage was increased a few weeks ago and that's helping greatly in the overall balance of brain chemicals. I've been doing my "homework"; stuff I give myself to do to work on my mental outlook. I take "happy pills", various vitamin complexes that have been shown to help boost moods naturally and safely. Something that's very important for sufferers of Bipolar Disorder is regularity of schedule. I returned to work a few weeks ago so I'm sure the routine of work has helped as well. Of great importance is the incredible support I've received from a very wonderful group of people I have the privilege of knowing through an online community. I could NOT have done this without them.

Whatever the case, it's all added up to a state of feeling really good. I feel optimistic. Not the grandiose, devil may care optimistic of mania (something I'm far too familiar with and which got me in considerable trouble the last few years), but the kind of optimism I can recall from non-ill times years ago. I'm feeling more mellow and less irritable. My mind isn't plagued by racing thoughts and negative thoughts. Instead, I feel a more natural, progressive train of thoughts happening.

Overall, I just feel great. As good as I've felt, I was thinking, in about four and half years, maybe longer.

Now the trick is to hold this feeling, this state, this mood, and try to keep working on making it the 'base me' again. And it IS work. Little things, daily things, but work nonetheless. For Bipolar Disorder never leaves. Ever. There will be relapses. That is just the nature of the illness and not anything one can control. It's not something that pharmaceuticals can fully control. So it's important to work on this state of "normality" as much as possible. To more fully make it me. To more fully define it. To find things that make it more real. To find touchstones that can help me return to it when I suffer serious relapses.

But mostly ... well, mostly I just want to enjoy it. After the four most recent years of mind-bending intensely chaotic internal struggles and the much longer period of constantly up and down mental states, I am glad to see the Bipolar Bears go into hibernation.

So while it is important to know what got me to this place of feeling great, I don't want to think about it too much. I just want for a while to enjoy the simple pleasure of feeling normal.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

An All Expense Paid Stay III

Psyche ward, Royal Columbian Hospital, early July, 2010

Finally the time had come. After twenty years of severe, often completely debilitating depression, wild mood swings, reckless manic behaviour and hellacious mixed episodes of paranoia and extreme irritability, all of which cost me several jobs, lost and damaged relationships, and hundreds of thousands of dollars, I was about to get professional help, I was about - I hoped - to find out what was "wrong".

Part of me was terrified; terrified that there was nothing clinically 'wrong' with me and that my troubles were just the way I was, that I was simply weak of character, foolish, reckless and with little moral fibre. God, I hoped it wasn't the case. I hoped so deeply it hurt. It was, I was sure, a matter of survival. Fearing that all of what I felt in my mind was "me" was what made me so intensely desire an end to my life. My own mind had become unbearable and I had reached the end. I wanted it all to end. I wanted to walk towards the light.

The psychiatrist was great, he just mostly let me talk, only asking occasional clarifying questions. It may have been because I overwhelmed him! I had so much to say, and once I started it was like I couldn't be stopped. It was not unlike a manic episode when one talks rapidly giving others little chance to speak. And I was finally speaking to a professional! Not just suffering through the endless internal process of wondering what the hell was wrong and beating myself up for being so mixed up and weak.

It was a tough process. How does one sum up twenty years of that kind of life? The more I talked, the more crazy it all felt, but it was simply just what I remembered happening. It took several intense sessions but finally we had a verdict - bipolar disorder. There was still work to be done to determine where on the scale of severity I fit, but the basic diagnosis was there.

I cannot adequately put into words the relief I felt. The problem was not with the core me, but an illness, a treatable illness. I felt a huge mix of emotions in the next 24 hours or so. I cried with relief. I felt that a horrible, horrible nightmare was over (it wasn't, but I didn't know that at the time). I felt that I could separate "me" from the behaviour governed by the illness. Not that I could completely shirk responsibility, but a lot of what I did was due to a mind deeply affected by an illness I could not control. Now I had an enemy to fight, something I could identify and try to do something about. For twenty years I'd fought an invisible foe, something I couldn't see or understand, something that was eroding all my abilities to think, remember, concentrate, make rational decisions, control my emotions and behaviour, an invisible foe that had cost me incalculable losses, painful losses, an invisible foe that had made life so much harder than it had to be, an invisible foe that was gaining possession of and destroying my mind and soul, an invisible foe that was sapping all my will to live, a foe that made me want to die.

But now, finally, I had some understanding of what I was fighting. Finally I had help to fight it. Finally, I wasn't alone. Finally, I was on a different path.

After a few more days of therapy I was allowed to go home. I went home a far different man than had entered the hospital. I went home with a new mission and a clear enemy. And for the first time in twenty years I understood the enemy wasn't me.

And Manic Bear Parts

Manic Bear has parted and I'm no worse for wear ("Manic Bear" represents the manic side of manic-depression or bipolar disorder for those just catching up with this saga). This is cause for some minor celebration.

As I wrote in the previous post, episodes of mania - periods of elevated, elated mood, feelings of greatness, heightened energy and creativity, accelerated thought processes and so on - have always ended badly for me, resulting in deep and often very prolonged periods of severe depression. It's like being in an elevator at the top of a building, feeling on top of everything, and suddenly having the cable cut and being in a stomach churning plunge to the bottom of life. The crash, and the stark contrast to the elevated state, is extremely hard to take. It's like someone feeds you a drug that makes you high, and you love that feeling so much and love the person you are so much, then just as you're getting used to that person and are thinking that person is the real you, someone feeds you another drug that turns you into the absolute polar opposite. The swing is abrupt, wild, and quite literally unbearable.

But not this time! It was a very minor and brief episode of mania to be sure but still high enough to set up a crash landing. Whether it was the mood stabilizing medications or my being more aware of what was happening and taking active steps to keep things in control, I don't know. I just know that I seem to have achieved a "soft landing" from the manic high. So this is quite a big breakthrough for me.

I seem in general to be far less plagued by negative and self-critical thoughts, that is I seem to be clearer of many of the symptoms of deep depression, so this may be a factor as well. And speaking of which, I used to beat myself up for being "weak" or of "weak character" for many of my errant life choices. Now, with a clearer and stronger mind, I can see that yes, I was weak but that it wasn't my core character that was weak, it as that my mind was very much weakened by the ravages of this illness. This is another big breakthrough for me I believe and it gives me hope to believe that in distancing myself from the unchecked illness (pre diagnosis and treatment) I can work daily to build up my mind's strength again. Which is not to say I believe I can completely defeat the Polar Bears, but that I can learn to to keep them in check and thus live a much more stable life in the future.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Visit from Manic Bear

Aaaaaahhh, to feel on top of one's world. 

Do you know elation? I know elation. I know how wonderful it feels, I've felt it often. I felt it recently, I've felt it the last few days. 

It's the best I've felt in probably six months or so. My mind is buzzing with ideas. I feel full of optimism and hope. I feel sure I can conquer anything life throws at me.

I feel attractive and sure I'd make a good partner for any woman. I feel I could satisfy any woman. 

I want to sing out loud! I want to sing from the rooftops. I'd love for people to hear my voice, to hear me sing to them my passion for life and love.

I feel in love with my job. It's so much of what I want. I feel good there, wanted there.

I had such a good day yesterday. All this positive and creative energy - and outlets in which to channel them! I felt in charge and in control. And just so damn happy. 

After feeling so unwell for so long, it's all so bloody wonderful!

It feels so freakin' good! I want it to last, I want this to be me! And of course it's me!

 I can't believe how great I feel - elated, happy, on top of the world, creative, attractive, feeling good about myself, all the things you'd want to feel, how you dream of feeling. Yet that's exactly what I have to do - not believe it. 

I can't believe it, I have to force myself not to believe it - because it's all an illusion. It's a visit from Manic Bear.

For most people such feelings of elation would not be cause for concern. They could ride it and enjoy it for however long it lasted. It's not a dangerous mood for them.

For those living with Bipolar Disorder, however, such elevated moods are signs to watch out for, they are signs of manic episodes. What I described along with needing and getting less sleep, heightened libido are sure signs that one is entering a potentially dangerous manic period.

How can feeling so good be "dangerous"? Again, if one is not affected by bipolar, it's not a big deal. But for those who are affected, a manic episode's end can have catastrophic consequences, often being plunged into months of a catatonic state of depression. Even the elevated state itself can lead to dangerous or harmful behaviour; spending sprees - usually with money the person doesn't have - sexual escapades, excessive drinking or indulging in drugs, running themselves low on sleep which could lead to psychotic behaviour. All of which will lead to a big crash at some point.

And the crash will feel awful. "How can I feel so bad after feeling so good", the person will think. And they will beat themselves up over all the things they did during the "high" state. They will go from feeling as good as anyone in the world, from feeling so positive and creative and loving to the exact polar opposite, to feeling so low and apathetic, being barely able to get out of bed, to being negative and pessimistic to utter self loathing - self loathing to the point of feeling suicidal. And that's what's so hard to remember when in an elevated state - that you're one misstep away from plunging so low and so fast and feeling so bad that suicide feels like the only way to stop the pain. I cannot tell you how powerful that lure is, that lure to stop the pain.

So I have to not believe these elevated feelings I've been having. I have to tell myself they're an illusion, that they're not real. I have to tell myself they're dangerous. Just as I have to, when in a depressive state, tell myself that all these bad thoughts I'm having are not real, when in an elated state, I have to tell myself those thoughts are not real nor sustainable. I have to try work myself towards some middle ground, something that's not at one pole or the other.

Now this doesn't mean that none of what I felt and thought was true. That would be unfair to myself. But I have to put it all aside until the elated state, the slightly manic state, the visit from Manic Bear passes. Then, when I'm in more of a 'normal' state (and I have little idea what "normal" is, but it's something I'm learning), I can see how much of what I felt and thought "sticks". As I write this I'm still feeling much of what I felt. In a few days, however, it could be gone, gone like none of it ever happened. I might experience a crash and feel slightly or heavily depressed. I have no idea to be honest.

And this is all part of  what "Living with the Polar Bears" - living with bipolar affected disorder - is all about. It's about learning what mood and states are affected by the disorder. It's learning to recognize mood swings and what they mean. It's about learning to keep things in perspective.

It's about Taming the Polar Bears.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Living with the Polar Bears

Living with the polar bears.

It appears I have no choice. As I've mentioned, there is no cure for bipolar disorder. And according to the information in the post A Formidable Bear, it very likely gets worse the longer it goes untreated. So it appears it's going to be me and the polar bears till death do us part.

While I cannot divorce myself from the bears completely it is certainly different now than previous to being diagnosed and starting treatment. Much different.

Living with the untamed polar bears as they ran amok with my mind and moods was, in hindsight, a bit of a hell. A hell for me. A hell for many close to me. I'll get into this in more detail in future posts but for now I'll just say that the "polar bears", the opposite states of mania, depression and of mixed states (perhaps the worst), cost me:

- perhaps over $200,000 in financial losses (lost home, lost equity, lost retirement funds, lost wages over the  years and so on). I'd say this is a conservative estimate

- several lost jobs, job opportunities and job promotions

- many damaged and lost relationship

- great difficulty for those closest to me

But that's the downside. Manic states took me on many a good adventure too. It's impossible to say for sure, but perhaps much of that money I lost I'd have not been able to gain were it not for a run of mania of one kind or another. Granted, if I'd been more stable all my life ... well, it's a tough balance sheet to figure!

While all of those losses (and there are others) are difficult, they're not the end of the world. It is all in the past and I only state those losses so as to put into perspective some of the damage the untamed polar bears can cause.

It's the now, living in a more balanced state of mind, with the polar bears somewhat under control, that's important.

While the past is past, I still very much feel the effects of twenty or more years of living with bipolar. I am, after all, only a few months in to what I'm sure will be a year or longer recovery and rehabilitation program. By far the biggest difficulty I face is the question - who am I?

This is not as facetious a question as it would appear nor very easily answered.

Imagine all of sudden finding that twenty years (and quite possibly longer) of your decision making, your strengths, weaknesses, relationship building, motivation, outlook, and many other things was the result of an illness, that indeed many aspects of "you" came from the illness, and that after a month or more of taking medications you find yourself quite a different person in many ways.

There are so many questions! How much of my motivation was the result of mania? What about the creative energy? What about all the creative thinking? I really have no idea. And no one else does, either. I find myself feeling really unmotivated and dull. And not as a result of feeling "depressed". It's just something that's not there. Can I find it again? I don't know.

As well as things I'd regret having to leave behind, there are some things I'd be glad to leave behind - I did some very hurtful things under various influences of 'the bears' I believe. 

And the polar bears are not completely gone either of course. I still feel some ups and downs, none of which I recognize until they're over! And even then I'm not sure. For example, I may have just had a very strong, up mood. Then - poof - it's gone, just like in the 'old days'. Now was that just a normal upswing in mood? Or was it "Manic Bear" making an appearance? I don't know! Same with a down mood. Was I just feeling down about my circumstances, a little unhappy? Or was it "Depressive Bear"? It honestly beats me. And it's very frustrating. Especially when it's been a week of feeling very positive, happy and full of hope and motivation and it just disappears. Damnit! I thought that was the "new me"! Wasn't it? What was it? Wasn't that "normal"? And there's no answer.

And this is the thing, I have NO idea what "normal" is, what "normal" feels like. Everyone has ups and downs in their moods. But how much is "normal"? All stuff to find out in time, of course - and with some professional help. And how much I'll get to "normal", given the lack of cure and how deep set the illness may be, is a mystery at this time.

So this is all part of this "who am I?" question. It feels like the book on who I am is being completely rewritten. Which is fine but it'll take time. How much time I'm not sure. There's just much to discover about myself. And much I have to let go. In the meantime, I can assure you that not knowing what thought is real or not real or what part of me is or was the illness or not is very, very unsettling. I sometimes feel like I woke up from a long bout of amnesia!

There are other remnants of the "polar past" as well that are still very strong within me. One mood 'feature' of bipolar disorder is a kind of paranoia, this strong, strong feeling that people are trying to hurt you. This can take many forms and be of varying levels of seriousness but for me it's things like people wanting to avoid me, wanting to get rid of me, wanting to make a fool of me and so on. Simple words can be twisted around in my mind to mean something completely sinister. It's virtually impossible to control because once it takes over, it is in control and logic serves only the purpose of finding the sinister in what I see or hear. And the "sinister" people can often by those closest and dearest to me. This causes, as you should well imagine, "difficulties". And it's really, really hard to turn around.

And, as I wrote in the Thoughts in the Raw post, suicidal thoughts continue to plague me - almost daily. But that will be subject for another post on another day.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Taming the Polar Bears - the Game Plan

There is no cure for Bipolar Disorder, it can only be managed and lived with. Which is true of a lot of conditions, I know, so I have nothing special to bitch about, but I wanted to say that just to further understanding of this particular illness.

Taming the Polar Bears - managing bipolar - is basically a three pronged battle as I understand it; finding the right pharmaceutical help, learning various coping mechanisms and trying daily to put them to use, and seeking, asking for and getting both professional help and help from friends and loved ones.

Right now, for me, there's no question that the humorous line "better living through chemistry" is applying to me. My life before and after being diagnosed and put on a regime of Lithium and the anti-psychotic Riseridone is incredibly different. Mostly in good ways, some I'm not to sure of (which I'll get to later). Bipolar disorder, once it gets fully entrenched and then out of control, is nearly impossible to control on one's own "will", that is you cannot do it without drugs. I'll save the technical explanation for another time, but when suffering from bipolar, there is some very weird shit going on in one's brain with one brain chemical amping things up so much it's like the best high and then - POOF! - that chemical being turned off while another one is started, one that plunges you from that wonderful high down into a catatonic depression. There are other states but these are the two classic ends to the 'pole', the "bi" of polar. When these states take over, you are not in charge - they are, and it can be a very wild ride.

So being off that uncontrollable wild ride is one thing that medications have done for me. Now, the ride is not completely over. No, no, no, nothing is that simple. But it is all much more manageable and far smoother.

Second is coping mechanisms. You cannot just take your medications every night or day and expect everything to be better. There's some work involved! And that's where coping mechanisms come in. Some are things we should all be doing. Like learning to better handle stress. Make doable goals. Eat healthier. Get and stay in better shape and so on. Some are just basic healthy living choices. For me on this list, handling stress and making doable goals are the hardest. Stress was a major trigger point for many of my episodes and for whatever reasons I just never learned to handle much stress. "Handling" it for me meant avoiding it (not that it's not a good idea to avoid some kinds of stress). So this is a big one for me to work on and I have a lot to learn. So far I've been trying meditation. I did well for a while then began to falter. I have to get back on it.

Setting doable goals is even harder for me. Indeed, it's likely very hard to most sufferers of bipolar disorder. Most things I've done in life have been a result of a run of mania. Mania means getting Big Ideas and then pouring a bunch of energy into them. Sometimes the ideas are really far out grandiose and just pursuing them leads to a big crash. Other times they're almost doable but depend a lot on the boundless energy and optimism of a manic run to make them work. Once the mania ends, so does the "plan". But sometimes the mania and the Big Idea match up well enough with one's abilities that it's actually doable. And progress in life happens! But through all of this mania and going up and down, one never really learns how to work step by step towards a goal. One never really learns how to set a goal.

So now I find myself without all the "power" that mania used to give me. It's a naked feeling, a feeling that a big part of me has been removed. And I'm feeling quite powerless in how to move forward. So learning how to make little goals and work towards them without that manic power is something totally new to me.

Asking for and getting help from professionals and friends and loved ones. This is another really difficult thing for me. I'm not sure how other bipolar sufferers feel, but I suspect much the same. I'm just guessing, but I'd bet that most people with bipolar are not great team players and are used to doing things on their own - and are stubborn. After you've been ruled by wildly different brain chemicals all your life that's just the way you are. I've made some progress. I found a family doctor. Just that was a big chore for me. Finding psychiatric help has been much more difficult. Psychiatric disorders are far more common than I'd have ever guessed. The whole system is swamped. Psychiatric help is critical I believe and is not something I'm resistant to. Quite the opposite. I desperately want to better understand this disorder and what it's done and is doing to me. But that help will have to wait at this stage. There's just no one available. Aside from that, there are certain forms of therapy that are useful. This is mostly in the form of helping with life skills and coping. So this is something I have to pursue much more aggressively. But while more help is available in this area, finding the right help can still be a challenge.

Finally, friends and loved ones. This I've not done well with either. And I can't explain why. Shame? Embarrassment? I'm fifty-one years old after all. I've been independent and a proud SOB all my life. It's just really hard to ask for help at this stage.

But I also remind myself that this disease, if not treated and handled well, can be fatal. So in asking for help and remembering to do all the other things to help myself, I have to remember that my life depends on it.

Excuse the Chaos

For anyone trying to follow a storyline here you'll find a lot of jumping around! On one hand I want to tell the story of how I got to the point of needing to check myself into a hospital to protect myself (the long story of my illness's development and course). On another hand I need to write whatever's on my mind on a given day or night ('the raw') and explain that ('the cooked'). On yet another hand I want to write about how my progress is going or not and some thoughts on that. As well I want to try to be generally informative on Bipolar Disorder. There seems to be no linear way to tell all these stories at once as things come to mind, so Chaos it will be. :-)

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Formidable Bear

Every now and again I need to have my butt kicked about what I'm facing and the importance of staying on the meds and stuff. The following was sent to me a by a good reader. I was grateful for more than just the reminder (for which I was very grateful) but also because I'd come across the following information in a manic frenzy of doing research prior to going into the hospital. Because I'd found it during a manic frenzy I had no idea later where I'd found it so I was glad to have had it sent to me. I found the information sobering then and I find it more so now. 

Bipolar Disorder Symptoms May Increase Over Time

It is not entirely understood if and how bipolar disorder changes over time, but psychiatrists have long suspected that every episode can make the nature of the disorder evolve. It is suspected that discrete manic and depressive episodes, if untreated or undertreated, can eventually lead to an increase in mixed episodes (experiencing mania and depression at the same time) and then culminate in a rapid cycling type of bipolar, with a high frequency of cycles in which mania quickly changes to depression and back to mania, etc., with almost no symptom remission.

Bipolar Disorder May Become More Difficult to Treat as it Progresses

In addition to the possibility that the time spent in remission decreases the longer a person is bipolar, it is also suspected that the disorder becomes more treatment-resistant over time; the more episodes of mania and depression a person experiences, the more difficult it is for medication and counseling to bring the patient back into remission.

The idea that bipolar changes, and that the disorder becomes more treatment-resistant over time, is not yet irrefutably proven, but is certainly strongly suspected by mental health professionals (Stahl, 2008).

Bipolar Disorder Shrinks Your Brain

There have also been several studies showing that those with bipolar disorder experience progressive changes in brain anatomy over time; losing gray matter more quickly than subjects who do not suffer from a mood disorder. This tissue loss has been associated with a decline in cognitive function and appears to contribute to the course of the illness. 

It all sorta seems to indicate that if you suspect you might be suffering from a mood disorder or you know someone you suspect is, the time to act is now.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

An All Expense Paid Stay II

After twenty years of suffering with "something" - I didn't know what - I was finally on my way to getting help having gotten admitted to a psychiatric facility. Unlike some people who find themselves in such a facility, I was not frightened or upset to be there. Quite the opposite, I was enormously relieved and not a little excited.

Enormous relief because it was becoming clear to the 'healthy' side of my mind that I was becoming a danger to myself and perhaps others. The combination of suicidal thoughts and high levels of stress that I could not manage was putting me very dangerously close to the edge. The thoughts and urges were with me almost constantly instead of occasionally. As well, I was getting advice and pressure from all sides about events in my life, from work, from almost everyone in my life at that point. I felt quite literally like I was going mad and was at the point of doing something drastic. When I went through and finished the procedures at the psyche ward - checking in, giving up 'dangerous' items, getting a room, putting on the hospital garb, getting introduced to my 'team', and so on - I felt safely away from everyone and everything. I felt safe - safe from myself as well. I could literally feel the weight ease off my shoulders. So much pressure and stress was gone.

I felt a little excited because finally I was going to find out more about what I'd been suffering from, finally I was going to talk to someone, finally I was going to get help, finally I was going to put my life on a better path. I'd lived with the signs and symptoms of Bipolar Disorder for so long it'd become almost second nature. Hell, it had, really. I'd handled it somehow for the most part but the previous three and a half years had taken a large toll. I'd lost so much and damaged so much and it was all weighing on me like never before. I felt like I could not handle another loss, another set back, another failure. The mania had become not a "friend" - a provider of energy and creative thoughts - it had turned on me with paranoid thoughts, extreme irritability, anger and rage. The least thing would set me off like a roman candle. I was becoming scary and miserable to be around. I couldn't, in all truth, even be around myself. I couldn't live with myself. I was hating myself. After a twenty year journey to reach that point, I was excited therefore about finally learning why my mind was breaking down.

The time drew near that I'd meet my psychiatrist. I couldn't stop pacing. I was becoming extremely nervous. How does one sum up twenty some years? Where do I start? What do I say? And - worst of all - what happens if he says it's 'nothing', it's 'normal', it's just something I have to learn to deal with? This was my biggest fear. I felt so strongly that I couldn't handle who I'd become. That feeling was a major driver of my suicidal plans after all. It would have been a huge let down to be told that my condition was 'normal'.

I went to my room  to try to prepare what to say, what to tell him or her but my mind was buzzing around and I could hold little in my mind at one time. Finally, a young-ish man with boyish good looks knocked on my door and introduced himself. I followed him down to a private room and sat down. His demeanor put me at ease and I felt relaxed. He asked me some questions and I began to talk ... and talk ... and talk. It all rushed out in a torrent - scraps of memories, questions, impressions, more memories, relating the recent and the more distant pass. He was trying to keep up, to direct me but I couldn't be stopped. A twenty year damn had burst.

Cooking the Raw

Thoughts in the Raw are writings that will pop up here randomly and just be an attempt to give some insight into certain states as purely, or as "raw", as possible. The states are what I personally experience though I think anyone suffering from similar disorders will find them not unfamiliar. Thoughts in the Raw though can leave people - those reading - with perhaps an incomplete understanding of what the thoughts mean or what the outcome was. So following a Thoughts in the Raw entry will come a Cooking the Raw entry to add some perspective.

For whatever reasons, be it Bipolar Disorder or something else, I am plagued by either suicidal ideation (fantasy like thoughts), urges, or the need to make suicidal plans. These had become quite severe prior to finally seeking hospitalization and professional help a little more than two months ago (early July). Medications are supposed to help but I've found that the thoughts or ideation can continue to barge into my mind unannounced. The first time startled me some because I thought the medications would have stopped them and that 'everything would be better' (you know, like when your mom would put a band-aid on a childhood owie). This happened once, twice, then three times, catching me off guard each time. So finally I decided to take a different tack and allow the thoughts to fully enter my consciousness and grow. I felt that by doing this I'd gain deeper understanding and grow stronger against them. "Know thy enemy" and all that. Doing this - recognizing the thoughts and allowing them to fully form and hear their call - is what lead to the post Thoughts in the Raw.

So if it gave one concern, I apologize. Though I still fear the thoughts, fear that Polar Bear, I feel I understand it better and am perhaps stronger against it. Writing "in the raw" I believe gives people greater insight into the mind of someone suffering such thoughts and perhaps can help build awareness. Hiding or chasing things away, I believe, is not always useful. Let it in, understand, dance with it and grow stronger. The spread that understanding and strength.

Thanks again to any and all who are following.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Thoughts in the Raw

Feeling restless. Feeling bored. Can't sleep. Feeling alone. Too alone with my own thoughts.  

My thoughts.  

Inevitable. It feels inevitable. It's a force, a force that's pushing against me, something I can't hold back forever. How long can I push back? How long can I build the wall that holds it back? I feel it wearing me down. The overwhelming feeling of inevitability of it. I feel like the little Dutch boy with his fingers in the dike except I sometimes feel there are too many holes. I can't plug them all. I can't hold it all back.
Every night I ingest pills to help hold it back. Is it enough? I get tired of the routine, resent the routine, I resent the necessity.  Why is it necessary? It often feels like they change me but not the power, change me for the worse.

My thoughts.  

Alone, quiet, with nothing else, they are there. Sometimes I don't have the energy to push them away, can't do the exercises to move them aside. So I let them in, let them in to keep me company. They feel so normal now, not at all like before. There are no racing thoughts, no driven fear, no crazy energy whipping them through my mind like a tornado. They just come in. They come like the tide, like gentle waves lapping at the beach, each one imperceptibly higher than the last, coming little by little until at last you are covered in the rising tide and it's just there and you're floating and it's fine.  It's like the rising tide, the thoughts, are my friends now, enticing me. "Why bother?", they say, "it's inevitable at some point. You know you have to come over", all like a voice calling from the other side. So enticing.

And why should I make them go away, isn't it inevitable? And tonight they keep me company and help me pass the time.  Ideas pass through my mind, soothing, wonderful ideas. A far away valley, moon lit mountains, stars above, watch the beauty, go to sleep, return to nature. When can I put the ideas to work, I wonder.

So many souls, so many souls, too many souls, too many for this only vessel that gives us life. Would one soul, like a grain of sand from an hourglass, be missed? I can't imagine. One or two or three then life moves on for all the souls.  

Earlier a pleasant evening on a wharf. Beautiful dark clouds build in the east while in the west the setting sun finds space through still opens skies dabbling black and grey with brush strokes of salmon pink hues. Watch the free show with sun on back, relaxed, at peace. What's this? Why does the water look so inviting? It calls, it calls. The tide is high, you could ride out on the falling tide. It is like it's calling, enticing. The feeling is strong, so strong the enticement. What is it about the call of the water? The water, the calming, soothing water. Must leave, walk away. Start the car, drive away from the water, the inviting, calming, soothing water.  Leave for now.

Restless, restless, alone with my thoughts.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

An All Expense Paid Stay

"Guess what, Honey, Daddy's just won an all expense paid trip to the Loony Bin!"

And so I announced to my then fifteen year old daughter that I was going to be admitted to the psyche ward at a local hospital. I merely wanted to use humour to break the news but I'm sure my face looked maniacal. I know my voice sounded so. She didn't, however, look at all surprised. Later she'd say she knew it was coming. Maniacal faces and voices were nothing new to her and she'd known I needed help.

She would walk with me down the bus stop where I'd take the bus to the hospital. She wouldn't join me on the ride, she had other plans. As we parted, she gave me a stoic look and subdued wave. Both hid inner sadness. I tried to smile back to let her know it would be alright. Her expression didn't change.

I'd been through the admission phase at a special emergency ward for psychiatric patients. Two young doctors interviewed me, one a very sympathetic woman of - I'd guess by her accent and blond hair - Scandinavian background and later a young Chinese-Canadian. Neither seemed to know much but they had to 'screen' me. They left me alone for a long period (to consult with themselves? with someone else?). Bored while waiting, I spied a large book on a table in the room. I picked it up and glanced at the cover. It was the "bible" for psychiatric diagnosis. I quickly scanned inside for the relative chapter and sub-chapters before coming to the condition I suspected - bipolar - and read as much as I could. I had to chuckle to myself how "by the book" their questioning had been. But what else could they do but go 'by the book'?  Anyone's mind is an amazingly complex and often chaotic place. Add any psychiatric disorder and you get a brew that is difficult for the most expert psychiatrists to sort out in a short interview.

They came back and I'd "passed the test". I was enormously relieved. In the previous days and weeks it'd become clear even to myself that I was in urgent need of help. If I'd been turned away, I don't know what I would have done.

People with bipolar disorder are, according the book Taming Bipolar by Psychology Today, ten to twenty times more likely to commit suicide than those that don't have the disorder. It was two episodes of intensely wanting to commit suicide that prompted me to finally admit what I previously couldn't - there was something seriously wrong and I needed immediate help. And that took me to an emergency room to seek it and from there to be admitted to a psychiatric ward.

For twenty years I'd known 'something' was wrong. Why hadn't I acted earlier? What took so long?

I am from a family that 'suffers in silence', be it physical ailments, unhappiness or what have you, we swallow it and carry on. I suspect that is not too uncommon from anyone with strong working class backgrounds; it's a tool of survival. And too, it's not a lot different than how some people 'maintain' their car; as long as it's chugging along somehow, it's all right. In other words, 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'.

For me it took twenty years of breaking down, and four years of 'running' really rough and then intense desires and plans of suicide to finally realize that just because the 'motor was still running', something was badly wrong.

The question was then, what was wrong and how to fix it.

Meet the Polar Bears

Taming the Polar Bears is an account of my struggles with Bipolar Disorder. The title comes from the name of a book, Taming Bipolar, which when typing into another online forum I'd misread and mis-typed - in a very foggy state of mind common in some mood episodes - as "taming the polar bear". Readers picked up on that and so it became the catch phrase for my journey of understanding this disorder and the ongoing struggles of treatment and recovery.

"Polar Bears" then represent manic and depressive states along with mixed states - Depressive Bear for depressive states, Manic Bear for mania and Mixed Bear for mixed states.  To tame the Polar Bears is to tame the states and thus tame the illness.

This blog will serve primarily as a space for me to write, as it seems through writing I am best able to examine my past and present while trying to build hope for a future. It serves as well as a valuable log of my moods and where I'm at mentally, something that's very valuable in the fight against this illness. I hope as well that any readers that follow along can gain insight or perhaps, if they comment, give me insight and feedback.

If you are reading this, I thank you and welcome you to my journey.