Happy Bipolar Birthday

“Well, this looks like a case of bipolar disorder with attached severe anxiety.”

One year ago today those words stopped my heart, and my world, all in one quick moment.  I had gone into the psychiatrist’s office knowing that something was wrong – that the last suicide attempt could have been the final one.  Things were spinning rapidly out of control in my life, and I needed to find the bottom so I could start the bounce back.  That office visit was without doubt, the rock bottom worst moment of my life.

So much changed with those few words.  My perception of the world, my relationships with my family, my professional being – it all changed.  I have had to figure out who am again.  It was like putting on a pair of glasses that you know you need, but it still takes time to get used to wearing.  Immediately post diagnosis the world seemed to slow down with the rush of medicines coming into my life, starting with a therapist, and trying to still – you know – work at my job that was paying the bills.  It was hard, and for quite some time I felt like I was walking around, living my life even, while wearing a set of cement shoes.

Never in my life, either before or since, have I felt what I felt those first few weeks of taking medicines.  Knowing now what I do – the original prescription was the wrong one for me, and unfortunately it took two more rounds of medicine hell to finally find one that wasn’t killing me from the inside out.  Before we landed on the solution though, things got so bad that I chose to check myself into a mental health treatment facility to be safe.  The five days that I spent inside that place were at once nightmarish and life changing.  I learned a lot in that experience; about myself, about my disorder, and about how to deal with my new life as someone with bipolar disorder and anxiety.

When I came out of the facility, several key things had improved: 1.) I had finally found the right medicine and had worked through the initial effects, 2.) I had learned valuable coping skills from caring and competent professionals, and 3.) I felt more comfortable than I had before with my new reality.

Fast forward now from April of 2017 when I left the facility to February of 2018.

As I’ve talked about before recently, I made the decision in early January of 18 to stop taking medicine.  I wanted to exert control in my life, and felt like I “had it,” so I decided to stop.  Six weeks later, I openly and honestly admit that I made a mistake.

It took about 3 weeks, but slowly the feelings and emotions from January and February of last year returned.  They’ve been in varying degrees, and thankfully not constantly, but they’ve been there – more so every day.  A few days ago, I came to a realization that I can’t do this on my own.  For better or worse, I need medicine to control who I am.  Here’s the biggest change from a year ago though, and it’s what I try to hang my hat on when I think across all that’s happened.

Knowing who I am and what I have doesn’t upset me anymore.  I’m not fond of the reality of having to take medicine to survive, but I’m on board with it.  At this point in my life as someone with bipolar disorder, survival is the ultimate goal.

I survived the first year of this.  I did it.

One year down, eternity to go.

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Music, again.

I went on the search for something real.
Traded what I know for how I feel.
But the ceiling and the walls collapsed
Upon the darkness I was trapped
And as the last of breath was drawn from me
The light broke in and brought me to my feet.

-February Seven, by the Avett Brothers

So.

Medicine.  Again.

After just shy of six weeks of being without it, I’ve come the conclusion that I can’t do without it.  That’s part of why I’ve been leaning so hard on music – among other things – the past week.  I need help grounding myself, and making sure that I keep my feet firmly on the ground and my head out of the clouds.  Music has been a life save when it comes to that need in my life.  Medicine will be the big difference maker though, unfortunately.

I’m figuring out that my reasoning for going off meds was a control thing.  Faulty though it may have been, the idea of me not taking the medicine was an attempt to exert some control over my life.  It’s funny how something as routine as taking pills every night at the exact same time could feel like it’s out of control – but it did.  I’m sure that every other bd sufferer out there feels the same way – like all semblance of control has been lost due to the structure of a treatment plan.  But that’s also the false premise, you know?

I need the medicine in me to be able to keep control.  The ups are too high, the downs are too low, and fast is too fast.  There is no control there, in that existence.  One of the major downsides to psychiatric care though, is that it takes 2-4 weeks to get in to see a doctor for a prescription.

So.  In the absence of medicine …  Music.

Passion

I’ve spent the last three days hosting a conference with my company in sunny South Florida. It’s been fun to be in a nice hotel, eat fancy food, and it’s been fun to do the work aspect of this as well. My job involves higher education so I’ve spent these last three days with professors from colleges and universities across the country.

These particular professors are all super passionate about their subject matter. I was actually part of the team who helped build this group of attendees out, so it was really gratifying to meet these people and spend time with them. We had Ph.Ds, department chairs, division coordinators and more at this conference, so again, it was a really good cross section of people.

They all got me thinking though, about the idea of passion. I mean, these folks were coming out of their chairs during group discussions so it was really something to see. Their particular discipline – sociology – may seem at first glance to be something that isn’t pertinent, but they love it with every fiber of who they are you know? As i saw them so passionate about a segment of academia, I really wanted to do an inventory of my spell to see where I’m passionate about life, you know?

What am I passionate about? What matters most to me? What am I willing to come out of my chair to defend, to argue in favor of, and to discuss with others? I think I know those answers but it’s always insightful to do an internal review of self you know? If you can’t live passionately, in all aspects of life – what’s the point?

Hindsight is always 20/20

Looking forward by looking back is always a good way to see about growth in your life.  I spent a lot of time over the last two days reading my blog entries from a year ago when things were at their absolute bleakest.  It was an interesting, hard read.  It was a good read too though.

This time last year, the wheels were rapidly coming off the wagon and things were spinning out of control, to the point where I had already attempted to take my own life.  Thankfully it was a failed attempt and I’m here today to continue on and share my progress.

I hadn’t heard those two words yet:  Bipolar Disorder.

I hadn’t been introduced to antipsychotics yet either.

Life was shockingly different a year ago, but looking back at it today I see so many things that I could and should have done in other ways.  Those things are what keep me close to my support system today.

I’ve had glasses for nearly 25 years, and it never ceases to amaze me how much clearer things are when you first put them on when you wake up in the morning.

Though being diagnosed and going through time in a treatment facility was the hardest time of my entire life, looking back on it now I can see that those dark days were like when you first wake up and everything is all blurry.  Being on medicines has helped to an extent – it leveled me out, and gave me a chance to learn how to live, aware of my new reality.  Being in therapy was a chance to learn how to harness all of my anger and sadness and mania and energy on how to live better.  Therapy gave me the tools and the patience to be able say, “I got this,” even if I didn’t have it in the moment.  It let me share these moments with my family and helped me be able to lean on them even more when the tough times have come.  None of this is to say that medicine or therapy “cured” me either – I still deal with my manic tendencies on a day to day basis.  I just see clearer now on how to harness them and make them help me instead of hurting me.

One of the keys to my survival has been communication – open and honest at all times – with my family, especially with my wife.  She’s on the front lines of my reality and she is owed much more than she gets when it comes to her being there for me.

Another key to survival that has been made clear over the last 12 months has been the realization that this is a forever part of me now.  I truly can see that I’ve suffered with it throughout my entire life up to this point, and now I know that it will be with me the rest of my life.  I’ve thankfully moved into the acceptance phase of this though, and am alright with it.  I no longer look at it as a blemish, or a punishment from heaven.  It’s simply the burden that I’ve been dealt for this life, and one that I will continue to learn more about and how better to deal with it every day.

Hindsight really is 20/20.  To have a year as tough, and hard, and full of challenges as 2017 was for me to look back on – that’s invaluable.

The Sound of Silence

I’m on a big(ger than usual) music kick right now.  As I said last time, it’s an essential element of my day-to-day survival, so I’ve found myself diving deeper into songs and into their lyrics.

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

When I hear these lyrics – it speaks to my daily battle with myself.  Someone told me that my posts over the last ten days have had a different feel to them and I definitely choose to look at the positive lens of this – and the song goes that same route, because after talking about darkness being planted in the mind, it goes here:

“Fools” said I, “You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you”

Those words that the songwriter refers to – for me – are talking about the words from friends and family and professionals.

It’s widely accepted that The Sound of Silence is a song about apathy.  When you’re trying to survive bd on a day to day basis, apathy isn’t an option, you know?  Conscious decisions have to be made on a day to day basis to be the better version of me.  Apathy isn’t an option.  Silence isn’t an option either.  I’ve got to fill my mind, and my heart, and my soul with the best kinds of sounds.

What are your best sounds?

The Power of Music

Music heals.  I’ve written about that before on this blog, but it bears repeating as many times as is necessary, you know?  I need music in my life – almost constantly- to keep my mind, and my heart calm.  The times that my mind is rushing too much, when things are moving a million miles a minute between my ears … music calms that.  The times when there isn’t enough happening in my mind … music fills that void.  I can’t imagine a life without music.

I’m a creature of habit with music – my family will tell you that I listen to the same artists, and the same music over and over.  It’s a comfort factor for me, you know?  We all have our favorite things in life, and especially for something that’s so foundational in my life, and in my survival, returning to those comfortable things over and over is part of the deal.

In the new documentary on the Avett Brothers, “May it Last” Seth Avett says that music is the “mining of the soul,” and I couldn’t agree more.  I think he was probably referring to their creation process … but when I think about my mind now, and how I feel like my mind has been mined … it makes sense to see that music fills that void now in my mind and heart.

None of this means that anytime I play music, it’s a sad thing, or a bad thing.

Music is just necessary for my healing, and my survival.

Joy

Joy.

Defined by our friends at Webster’s Dictionary like this:

Definition of joy

1a the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires delight
b the expression or exhibition of such emotion gaiety
2a state of happiness or felicity bliss
3a source or cause of delight
What does it mean to you?
My joy comes from lots of different places.  And exists on lots of different levels.  It’s not always present – it can ebb and flow depending on how the days are flowing.  The benefit that comes of joy – true joy – is that you can come to know what it is and always find your way back to it.
My joy right now comes from my two daughters and my wife.  With all that’s gone on the last twelve months, and all the change and turmoil that we’ve been through – the three of them are my rock, and are the absolute foundation of who I am.  I am glad to have them, and I am glad that I feel a sense of need for them.  The joy I feel from them is key to my survival as I navigate the throes of bp existence.
I am trying to find other additional sources of joy as well.  Not to replace my family, but to almost diversify where my joy comes from, so that I can always have a source of joy that is active and shining in my life.  I think that makes sense – ha!
All I know is this:  joy is a powerful thing.  It can change your world individually, and is worth the effort to cultivate it, and make it a reliable source of strength for you in your life.
Joy.  Worth the effort.

I’m a fan of me.

One of the worst side-effects of being diagnosed with a mental illness and having to take the medicines that can go with it, especially later in life, is the effect that it can have on your sense of self-worth.  The experience, the mental and spiritual trauma – it can be horrendous.  It’s hard to remember who you are, and the value that you bring to the world.

It’s been nearly a year since my diagnosis, and I’ve been up and down that spectrum many times.  When you realize that the mania is something that drives your perception of you to unrealistic perceptions of yourself – it’s really hard to figure out how to feel about yourself, you know?

For me – grounding my self worth comes back to thinking outside of myself.  Taking a deep breath, and thinking about those who care for me helps.  My family is central to who I am, and how I survive.  My kids need me.  My wife needs me.

One of my favorite sayings talks about how you can’t draw water from an empty well.  I can’t be of value to others, personally or professionally, if I don’t recognize that I’m of value to myself.

I am a good man.

I have good intentions.

I am of worth to myself, and those around me.

I am a fan of me.

The Devil on my Shoulder

As I sit here writing this, there’s a lot of pain and anguish in me.  I’m struggling with the idea of staying on medications or not.  It’s been a long road from last year at this time and I am battling the idea that medicines are necessary.  I don’t think that’s unreasonable, right?  I’ve come a long way – and part of me feels like going it alone would be a better alternative.  Psychiatric care is expensive, and time consuming and a damn nuisance sometimes.  To be without it would be very liberating.

On the other side of the equation though, is the me that needs to take a beat and figure out what the results of going off meds could be.  Perhaps I can figure out what those results would be by looking backwards in time, you know?  Surely this nightmare has had long lasting and negative effects on my family.  On my marriage.  So what will happen if I stop meds and go au naturel?  Will people die?  Will I die?  I don’t know, and that’s the scary part.

I’ve learned to live my life with someone on one shoulder telling me that meds aren’t necessary, and someone on the other shoulder telling me that catastrophe will strike if I dare miss a day.  Where does the truth lie?

I don’t know.

 

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