Intro to my book of essays and poems on bipolar disorder
1. Bipolar Daydreams -- An Introduction
Within the pages of this book, you will find information about bipolar disorder, my experience as one diagnosed with the disorder, and a collection of poetry written to express the emotional roller coaster life I live.
When I discuss symptoms of the different aspects of being bipolar, my attempt is not to diagnose or suggest a specific form of treatment for anyone. My purpose is to open the pages of my life for your perusal. I have learned from difficult experiences in my life. There are other bipolars in the population of the US, and the world. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in a 2013 publication, 20.9 million Americans have bipolar disorder symptoms--about 9.5% of the population If you learn about us, we're quite an interesting and different sort, and we need not be stigmatized or feared.
If we referred to mental problems as we did over 100 years ago, "melancholia," would sound acceptable, a gentle word, and as melodic as a Van Morrison ballad. Depression is what we call it today. Some people experience both depression, and it's opposite pole of mania. In the 1950s, the term manic-depression became the vogue term for this diagnosis of the two forked emotional extremes. Now it is called bipolar disorder, to express the two extremes—the high highs, and the low lows, with some erratic behavior exhibited during the time spent between the two poles.
However, to quote John Joseph Merrick, the "Elephant Man", "We are not animals."
We have an altered biochemistry that, at times, overrides our self-control of our emotions. What I share in Bipolar Daydreams is meant to inform on bipolar disorder in general, to share my experiences, especially since being diagnosed, and to relay what it's like to live inside a bipolar life. Nobody choses to be bipolar. We are born with a gene that will ignite, at some point in our lives, and our behavior follows certain patterns, which deviate from the norm. We experience a deluge of biochemical information in our bodies from time to time, and these chemicals flare up our emotional sensitivity. No one can know the internal chaos by looking at the outside. At times, the emotional roller coaster and lack of stability create dreadful situations for the bipolar, as well as for their family and friends.
However, God never gives a person more than they can handle, especially if they will accept help. Bipolars need a good psychiatrist and a set of specific medications, which will change as symptoms change over time. Additionally, the more bipolar disorder is investigated, the more information is discovered about the nature of the disorder, where it comes from organically, and how to deal with it. There also seems to be a relationship between bipolar disorder and individual creativity. Lana R. Castle, author of Finding Your Bipolar Muse, explores this concept in-depth.
I don't know what it's like to walk in your shoes any more than you would know what it's like to walk in mine. I claim poetry writing as my creative bipolar gift, and I offer poems that detail the different feelings and insecurities which I have faced in my life. I hope my poems allow you read between the lines, provoke you into new ways of thinking about those who carry a mentally challenging diagnosis, and about how we are all much the same. I hope my writing entices you to think from a more knowledgeable perspective. The purpose of this book is to spread information about bipolar disorder, and to make the disorder a bit more familiar and a bit less foreboding for those who lack personal experience with the disorder. There may be individuals in your social network who deal with symptoms on a daily basis. However, they may not have shared their diagnosis with you because of the stigma still associated with mental issues. We don't need your sympathy as much as we crave your compassion.
Usually we aren't scary people. However, symptoms can mount upon symptoms, becoming more intense until our behavior becomes outrageous. This is called a psychotic episode. When we need help, we need that medical help immediately, rather than a lecture on behavior over which we have no control. There is no magic switch to "just stop it." Bipolar disorder is a genetic neurological abnormality, not a personal choice. Please accept us, and this collection of essays and poetry, with thoughts of the loving humanity that we all share.
Bipolar Disorder was previously called manic-depression. This terminology was designed to soften the blow of social stigma that people associate with a particular set of predictable emotionally based symptoms. This disorder is a neuropathological oddity, meaning the bipolar brain works differently than that of most people. The structures of the brain and/or the biochemicals that work in the pathways of the nervous system are different from that of most people. Because of this, our moods often bounce between extremes--very high or very low--with little time spent in-between. The thinking and reasoning processes work differently too. Thinking logically can become difficult because of one's lack of ability to focus his attention on the matter at hand.
"People with manic-depressive illness are often highly intelligent, extraordinarily gifted, and/or glowingly talented--people whose brilliance makes the world a better place, while the individuals themselves are struggling every day to cope, to function, and to stay alive." (Marcia Purse. "Bipolar.About.com." Part of the New York Times Company, accessed March 2012.)
Bipolars are people with a built in set of emotional and behavioral symptoms, which will often turn a small problem into a huge one. The most problematic symptom, in my opinion, is that one's mood will swing drastically--often with little or no warning. The change is not necessarily something that the bipolar will notice about their own behavior, though close friends and family will generally be able to recognize these changing moods.
I write this as a person diagnosed as bipolar during my mid-thirties. Ever since, my psychiatrists have provided an ever-changing anti-psychotic cocktail that I must partake of several times a day. The ingredients of this medicinal cocktail change as my symptoms change. Unfortunately, as soon as I'm stable on my meds, something changes in my life, and I'm not stable anymore. Then I need my psychiatrist to adjust my medications again. I see my doctor every four to six weeks, and call if I notice a change in symptoms.
Theoretically, a pill could make a woman stop shopping. I say this because outlandish shopping sprees are a behavioral symptom of bipolar disorder. If medications can help to ease symptoms, there are medications which dispel one from thinking and acting on impulses. One symptom of bipolars in a manic state is a compulsion for shopping or gambling in some way. It is difficult to stop the spending urge, even if you don't have cash or credit. In the state of mania, a bipolar believes he can and will conquer all obstacles.
I take pills during the summer to break up my mania, according to my psychiatrist's instructions. Mania is a state in which one feels like God's right hand, as if you could do no wrong. Usually a person in this state has the energy to begin a multitude of complicated tasks, but they all end up incomplete, and in my case, in various stages of disorder around my house. During a period of mania, many others and I, will head off to the shopping center, and return with bags of what seemed like wise household and clothing purchases at the time. Bills mount upon bills until credit is no longer an option, at least for me. This is a part of my diagnosed disorder, and lack of credit is one of the consequences with which I must contend.
It never seems to work out for the best when one goes shopping while manic. All the clothes fit perfectly. All the accessories match. The expensive perfume you always wanted is within grasp, scent, and purchase transaction. The bipolar is under a potentially hypnotic buying spell. Medicating mania will help avoid compulsive shopping and other impulsive behaviors. Medicating for bipolar disorder keeps most of the self-destructive symptoms at bay, most of the time. Many bipolars know this. They will maintain the medications prescribed by their doctors, even if it means dealing with a few unwanted side effects. Finding the balance between helpful psych meds and unwanted or intollerable side effects is a continuing challenge.
Internet shopping can be extremely hazardous to those with credit cards. I speak from experience, having purchased a lovely hand painted reproduction of Michelangelo's "Creation of Adam" picture, which now hangs above my mantle. It creates a lovely peaceful feeling in the room, at times, when I don't think of how much it cost, and the final consequence of forfeiting credit. With my credit score, credit is not an option,
Research via the Internet yields amazing information and shopping opportunities. You can find anything you could possibly want, whether or not you have the funds to pay. That's a scary thing for me to realize, and a difficult thing for me to control. My want button itches too much, and too frequently. It's a feeling like when a pregnant woman has a food craving. It is an overwhelming desire to live the shopping experience in some form or fashion. A bipolar can learn to recognize it, and set up some personal spending road blocks, but spending while in a manic state is difficult to control.
My mother still lectures me on the difference between a want and a need. It's the cause of divisive conversations. What Mother thinks is a want I always consider a need. However, after years of lecture, I do know what the difference, even if I don't behave accordingly. For me, shopping is an impulse issue that is laborious to control.
When I opened the bill for my new beautiful brush-stroke-visible painting, I was aghast. So great a cost, financially and emotionally for the lovely peaceful feeling the painting had given me.
"Oh, my God! What have I done?" kills tranquility. The brain in my head thumped in unison with my heart. I self-destructively frazzled my own ego while seeking artistic contentment. My common sense had failed me. "This was a big mistake. I don't have money to spend like this. I don't even have a part-time job. What was I thinking?" I wasn't thinking. I had reacted to an overpowering shopping impulse.
Still, it is a beautiful painting, Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling. He laid on his back on a ladder for 14 years to paint that ceiling. Micaelangelo was bipolar. Part of the ceiling, or rater a damn good reproduction, now graces my den, where I can admire the picture as well as reproach myself for the part it played in my financial debacle.
Somehow, those numbers that spelled out the price seemed less out of reach while viewing them on the computer's shopping screen. There they weren't real numbers about the green money in my wallet, like making a purchase at a cash register in a brick and mortar store. I had made a credit transaction that contracted my future funds, that I didn't have yet. Obviously bad plan, looking back. But at the time, I had to have that picture.
Moods, and concepts of right and wrong, change for me under particular circumstances, and with the passage of time. My attitude often changes in a short period. I don't always recognize my mood changes. I have found that most people just behave as they do, and few have the desire or need to analyze their behavior, looking for patterns or problems. Things happen, and life goes on. I can develop symptoms, and not realize for three days, sometimes longer. Family members and friends who know a bipolar well are aware of the persons mood shifts. It helps the bipolar to receive that news as gently as possible, and usually the bipolar is grateful for the insight into their behavior. That doesn't mean that they have control over the behavior, or in any way stop it. If the bipolar can't stop the unwanted symptomatic behavior, it might be time to see the person's psychiatrist, or in extreme cases, check in to a psychiatric hospital for observation and medication change. Sometimes patients do not respond to drugs as anticipated. However, bipolar treatment is an option every bipolar should consider, investiage, and then educate themselves.
Stability is a difficult concept for me. I personally have a problem with the passage of time. I can't keep up with time, like knowing it's been a month since I paid bills and I need to do it again. I forget appointments because they seem to fall off my too many collected personal calendars that are misplaced in the clutter adorning my home.
My moods show up in my sleeping patterns. I have no control over numerous things that would seem to be part of a regular routine. I'm presently going through a sleeping pattern change that's got my energy zapped. Excessive need for sleep could be a side effect of the meds my doctor has prescribed for me. I sleep deeply, and too many hours. I realize this, but I can't seem to do anything to change it. Extended sleep sessions are becoming a habit. This is a symptom of bipolar depression, the opposite extreme of mania.
When I'm in a dead sleep, flat on my back, and dog kisses in the face won't stir me, I know that something is different, wrong. People ought to come to life from sleeping a lot faster than I do. Waking up takes me considerable time. I sometime wake up trying to figure out when I went to sleep, if I need extra sleep because I was up writing all night, or if I have to hurry to arrive at a doctor's appointment. Forget about alarm clock help in this state. I've tried lots of things, but I just don't want to get out of bed. I can't make myself. I'm the only human sleeping in my home. However, even when I've had a roommate, my sleeping patterns caused problems for the both of us, and it was my fault.
I can sleep for hours on end, until late afternoon. I turn over and go back to sleep through an entire day of sunshine and tropical temperatures. I cannot make myself get up to face the world. I rise long enough to feed my pets, and then go back to bed. Now, I am depressed, in the down cycle, or spiral, of bipolar disorder. I presently require 12 - 18 hours of sleep at a time before my body will let me function. This takes quite a toll on my daily productivity.
This sleeping pattern means I am falling away from my seasonal manic symptoms and more toward my wintertime depression symptoms. I sleep much less when manic--about four hours every couple of days. I may stay awake for two or three days with no sleep, leaving my thinking processes at a disadvantage. I also forget to eat when I'm manic. I'm befuddled and undernourished. Nevertheless, I feel I am much more productive, and happier when manic. This usually happens to me during the summer, or after an emotional upset. Mania is my happy but self-destructive aspect of the disorder.
Hypomania is a less severe form of mania, whereby symptoms may be present but not in a debilitating way. I've gone from between two weeks to as much as several months in this state. Hypomania what my mother calls me being "normal," though that's not actually the case. I'm not sure any time in my life could be labeled normal. An uninformed person can't really tell the difference between hypomania and a person being in a very good mood. It's a fraction of a perception. Mania is much more obvious. I suppose that's a matter of perspective too, but of all my states, this one makes me feel like I've found my way on the road of life--or at least I can perceive a road of life worth traveling.
Unfortunately, in my case, hypomania is often followed by true mania. Severe mania may lead to a psychotic episode, which requires hospitalization in order to get the patient stable. The patient will be given multiple medications under close staff supervision. Extreme cases of mania may include delusions where the person hears or sees things that aren't there. I have not experienced visual hallucinations, but when I start displaying intensely manic symptoms, I will experience auditory hallucinations which affect my sense of reality. This is a condition that usually necessitates hospitalization.
Severe depression, like severe mania, can also lead to a psychosis that requires hospitalization. Within the confines of the hospital, the nurses can keep the bipolar person safe from himself, if that is necessary. Doctors admit their patients to hospital care, under conditions in which they can oversee the effects of prescription meds, over the counter meds, needed vitamins and minerals, and food intake. If a patient should have a bad reaction to a medication, help is nearby.
It's like life is a game of bowling, and I'm the ever shifting pin in the loading machine. I never know exactly where I'm going to land, but it doesn't really matter. I'm going to get knocked flat eventually, and probably more than one time. This isn't pessimism; it's my life experience. I've learned that I always have to recognize my symptoms and then fight my way back toward normalcy when my body chemistry takes over.
How much trouble do you have with concentration, on a daily basis? Do you start more projects than you can ever finish? Can you carry an idea through a thought process, and follow it to some logical conclusion? Sometimes, I cannot do these things. On a good day, I can. My attention span is not always very long. I try to work around these kinds of distraction.
Luckily, I work for myself as a freelance writer, and I'm not a strict boss. I allow myself a sick day when nothing gets accomplished, and I nurture my needs instead of berating myself for my disorder. I make lots of adjustments and special rules for myself in my bipolar world. I can feel better about myself that way, and I don't particularly have to explain the reason to anyone.
I have to fight to keep my emotions positive, like the way I joust with my bed sheets every day or night pulling myself, fighting, out of bed and into a routine day. In the other emotional extreme, I fight to stay out of bed, sometime escaping sleep for three—even four days. The longer I go without sleep the more severe my symptoms become. A brain doesn't function well without restful recuperative REM sleep. Bipolars can exhibit behaviors at both extremes of the emotional spectrum at the same time. Not all bipolars experience the same symptoms, or respond favorably to the same medications. Treatment for each bipolar is unique.
How many moods do you have in a week, or a day? How would you define mood? How is mood different from personality? Personally, I am unable to make a distinction between actions based on my mood, and actions based on my personality. Maybe someday the light bulb (the invisible one, on top of the head) will come on. I search within myself for answers. I know others are more aware of my mood changes than I am. Those with bipolar disorder need understanding family and friends.
In the meantime, I'll continue writing about myself and my misadventures, researching on the Internet, reading books on bipolar disorder, and getting by with a little help from my family, friends, and doctors. I hope the poems and personal essays in this book will broaden understanding of bipolar disorder, and help gain social acceptance for those of us with this disorder.