He Loves Me

He loves me.

He loves me even though I have a diagnosis of Bipolar disorder.

Even though I’m not great with the whole “mushy” thing, and generally show my affection through sarcasm and teasing.

Even when he found me on the bathroom floor covered in blood.

He loves me even though I mock his beard and continually enquire as to when he is going to enter Whisker Wars.

And even though I changed my ringtone for him to “I’m Sexy and I Know It” by LMFAO. And when he complained, changed it to the Star Wars “Imperial March”

He loves me when I’m manic. And I call him up at some ungodly hour from the hospital. To inform him that I am going to bake a cake.

Even when I was psychotic and began to believe that he may actually be a criminal mastermind.

He loves me when I have to cancel the “date night” we rarely are able to have because I have had an allergic reaction to something.

He even waits outside the toilet with a glass of water.

He loves me even though I fall asleep during every damn movie we watch. Then he patiently restarts it the next night and asks me “what is the last thing you remember.” To which I reply; “I don’t know. I was asleep!”

He loves me even though I have scars, and stretch marks, and a post childbirth body. He says he loves me even more.

He loved me on the days I couldn’t get out of bed. The days I told him I couldn’t keep on living.

He saved my life. More than once. And he didn’t stop loving me.

He loves me even though I sing “The Thong Song” every time he mentions his Cisco qualifications.

He loves me even when I ask him inane questions. Like “If you had to sleep with either Susan Boyle or The Queen who would be the lucky lady?” And he will be all “neither.” And I will say “You have to choose. Or the world will DIE.” And this happens most days.

And also when I strap a garden gnome in his car, or tuck it into his side of the bed, or sit it on the toilet, and then upon discovery gleefully tell him that “he has been Gnomed!”

Even when I have been frogmarched by security guards.

Even when I forgot pretty much everything after ECT.

He loves me even though I veto his music choices on car journeys.

He lets me put on my playlist.

And doesn’t complain.

Much.

In the ten years we have been together I have spent a total of eight months in hospital, had at least 3 manic episodes, a handful of mixed episodes and countless depressions. He knows Bipolar disorder is episodic. That it may happen again. He still loves me.

He tells me every day he loves me. And every night before we go to sleep.

He loves me.

Me.

And I’m the luckiest girl in the world.

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More than just a mood

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Bipolar disorder is part of a cluster of disorders classified as ‘mood disorders’. Most people associate high and low mood changes with bipolar disorder. For me (and probably many other people too) bipolar is so much more than just a mood change.

Drive and Energy 
When I am depressed I have NO energy. Seriously. Nothing. Every little thing becomes such a drama. Sometimes I feel I can’t even move. I don’t even have the energy to cry, I just kind of sit there. Waiting for time to pass by.

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On the other hand, at the other pole I am like a kid on a sugar high. I need very little sleep, I can’t sit still, I’m impatient with people who can’t keep up with me. I talk and talk and talk and talk. My whole body is fueled with energy…which can be quite annoying sometimes. I have so many projects and ideas. When I’m hypomanic this can be quite useful, I recently completed 10 days of thesis work in under two. But once I cross the threshold to true mania it becomes counterproductive. I have so many ideas that I can’t keep track of them all, I start a project then become bored and leave it. I become extremely annoying. My husband will testify to that 😉

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Self esteem:
When I’m depressed I hate myself. I’m ugly, I’m fat, why does anyone bother with me, I’m a waste of space. I dress in tracksuits or anything to hide under. I avoid social activities. On the other hand when I’m hypomanic/manic I feel confident and self possessed and this generally manifests anywhere on the scale between “Damn, I’m good looking!” to “Holy crap! I’m superhuman!”

ImageMystical experiences:
There is this other aspect that individuals with bipolar, particularly bipolar 1 tend to have…and it is often referred to as mystical experiences. Now I personally think that is just a nicer way of saying ‘psychosis’ myself. I mean how much cooler does mystical experiences sound?! Harry Potter anyone?

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Anyway I read somewhere that believing yourself to be completely normal is a positive sign for stability. When I was severely depressed I slipped into psychosis and started having paranoid delusions where the police were after me for being a bad mother. When I was manic I thought I was superhuman (because I didn’t need to sleep) and that my dreams predicted future events. I believed myself to be special, have special powers, and people were to pay special attention to me. Egocentric much?! 😉

So there you have it. To me bipolar is so much more than just a mood change. It’s almost a personality change. From self loathing to self loving. Failure to fabulous. Miserable to majestic.

And somewhere in between there is the normal, average, non-wizarding me too.

What are your experiences of bipolar disorder? Do you feel like a different person during episodes? I’d love to hear! 🙂

What the Dickens is Bipolar Disorder?!

Bipolar disorder is a universal mental illness. It doesn’t discriminate. People of all ages, nationalities and from all walks of life can experience bipolar. Perhaps this is due to the genetic component of the disorder. Scientists have identified several genes, including the Dysbindin, Neuregulin and G72  genes which when damaged contribute to Bipolar disorder. As such, bipolar tends to run in families, although episodes can be triggered by significant stressors, and in women, childbirth. It is estimated that about 1.1% of the population suffer from bipolar disorder

People with bipolar disorder are 50 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population. That is huge. The suicide rate for the average population is around 0.01%, in the Bipolar population it is around 13%. What’s more, nearly half of individuals with Bipolar disorder will attempt suicide at least once. Extreme depression and psychosis resulting from lack of treatment are the usual cause for suicide. IF YOU FEEL SUICIDAL PLEASE REACH OUT FOR HELP BY CALLING YOUR LOCAL EMERGENCY NUMBER OR PRESENTING AT A HOSPITAL EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT!

A bipolar depression is nothing less of horrific. Unlike Major Depression, often there is no apparent cause for bipolar depression. A bipolar depression can persist for months and may become so severe that psychosis results. Traditional anti-depressants used alone generally have little effect, and can even trigger manic episodes. Unfortunately, because many individuals affected by bipolar seek help during depression rather than mania (which may be enjoyable), they are often misdiagnosed with Major Depression and treated accordingly. Individuals who present with mania may be misdiagnosed with Schizophrenia. Consequently bipolar is one of the most difficult mental illnesses to correctly diagnose.

Symptoms of mania can include pressured speech (or talking REALLY fast), racing thoughts, needing less sleep and not feeling tired, grandiose beliefs (for example, I started to believe that I was superior to everyone else because I didn’t need sleep to function but they did), and general euphoria. People may become impulsive (e.g. spending lots of money, quitting their job) and promiscuous.  But there is a dark side to mania; during a manic episode people can quickly turn irritable and even aggressive. They may experience hallucinations and delusions.

Sometimes individuals experience mania and depression at the same time, for example, a deep depression fueled with energy. This is termed a ‘mixed state’ and is one of the most dangerous psychological states to be in.

Bipolar is generally shuffled into three types: Bipolar Type I, Bipolar Type II and Cyclothymia.

Bipolar Type I is often referred to as the more ‘severe’ disorder in that individuals in that people’s  high’s tend to be higher, and they are more more likely to experience psychosis and be hospitalised.

In Bipolar Type II the high’s are less severe and are termed hypomania. While the mood, cognitions and energy is still elevated, there is no psychosis, and usually little need for hospitalisation. However, depression can be crippling in those who experience Bipolar II, and affected individuals are more likely to rapid cycle between episodes.

Cyclothymia (or ‘Bipolar Lite’ as Stephen Fry once described it), is a milder of form bipolar where individuals experience mood swings from mild depression to emotional highs chronically over many years.

Manic Diary Entry

Thought I would share a journal entry from when I was manic in hospital. It makes me laugh…

3/5/2012

To be honest, what the docs call my ‘mania’ is pretty damn fun. Well mostly. There are some unpleasant aspects to it. But after enduring months of that monstrous depression ‘mania’ feels good! I want to make a cake. I want to DO stuff.

I didn’t realise what was happening until I was immersed in it. And once I was in it there was no way I wanted it to stop.

It started with lots of ideas. I couldn’t

Yep. That’s it. Couldn’t even finish a sentence, never mind a journal entry 😉

 

 

Stockholm Syndrome

 

 

 

Some of you say, ‘Joy is greater than sorrow,’ and
others say, ‘Nay, sorrow is the greater.’
I say to you, they are unseperable.
Together they come, and when one sits alone with
you at your board, remember that the other is
asleep upon your bed. 
Kahlil Girbran

The world is full of peculiar paradoxes. Have you ever touched something so cold that it burned your skin? Or laughed so hard you cried? Have you ever felt so much pain it’s pleasurable?

I think I have a touch of Stockholm Syndrome. I’m in love with my captor. I hate mania, I hate it, I hate it, I hate. But oh how I love it too. Flat as a pancake I find myself yearning for the high’s. Knowing full well the consequences of doing so.

For me the high brings such revelation, I suddenly understand my life and the world around me, everything makes perfect sense. But now nothing makes sense. I don’t understand how I am supposed to feel. I don’t understand how I got here. I don’t understand why bad things seem to happen to good people.

I don’t feel, when I know I should.

I just want to feel that manic/hypomanic energy. I want to be productive. I want to feel the unabashed joy and love. I want to dance because the music means something to me. I want to understand the universe again.

But will that come with a price of irresponsibility, risk taking, and psychosis?

Probably.

When I was about 18 I went through a period that I can retrospectively diagnose as mania…or perhaps hypomania. For about six months I didn’t sleep, I wasn’t tired, I became loud and argumentative in classes, I completely changed in personality,  I drunk too much, I got myself involved in all sorts of risky situations. I cared about very little.

And that is the crux of it really. I want to care. I want to feel those high’s but I want to care for my family and for myself. I want to be the best mother I can for my son, and the best wife I can for my husband. I want to be the best I can be, and I can’t do that when I am high.

So I keep taking the medication. If I were young, if I were single I would probably experiment with skipping doses. See if I could find a happy medium. But as a mother I can’t possibly risk that.

So I stay here, flat and stable. I’m in love with something I shouldn’t be. I’m in love with something that isn’t real. I’m in love with something that could potentially destroy my life.

But more than that I’m in love with what I have, my beautiful boy and husband. And so I will never succumb to the infatuation. For the pleasure, and the pain, are inseparable.

 

The Dark Side of the Mood

 

Mania is like a whirlwind romance with someone who is no good for you. At first everything seems wonderful. You giggle, you make plans, you forget to eat because it just feels that good. It’s a sudden ego boost. Before you know what has happened you have eased into it, you have fallen in love with it, you have committed to the high. And once you reach that certain point, you can’t turn back, not without a fight anyway.

I read recently that one of the tell tale signs of mania is a complete denial that anything is wrong (when it is obvious to others around you that there is). I was irate when the doctor told me that she thought I may be experiencing a manic episode. I think part of the problem is the name of it. I mean manic? Really? I was so against the term ‘mania’ when I was in hospital that the nursing staff used to refer to my highs as ‘productivity’ instead. When I was depressed I was incapacitated. When I was ‘productive’ I had ideas, felt creative, completed tasks, and generally just got things done.

And how, I tended to think, is that a bad thing? How is it unhealthy to be productive? How can something that feels good possibly be an illness?

Retrospectively I realise now that I have experienced manic episodes in the past. But of course then I had no idea what they were, and I welcomed them. Now, occasionally I feel a slight twinge of mania wash over me. I feel the euphoria, or the confidence. I become engrossed in a project to the point of obsession. Or I just plain become ‘productive’. In that moment when I realise the rise in my mood I need to make a decision. I can sink into it, encourage the euphoria, and ride the wave. Or  I can attempt to stop it. Remove myself from any risky situations. Calm myself down.

But you have to understand, refusing that mania is like refusing a drink when you are on the cusp of intoxication. Are you going to get drunk tonight? Or are you going to stay sober?

 

But like many drunken experiences the aftermath of a manic episode often involves embarrassment and regret. And like intoxication, once you reach a certain point it is very difficult to remain in control. Mania, despite its allure, has a dark side.

 

 

 

 

In hospital I was protected from any kind of physical injury during my manic episode. But even so, I did walk out in front of a car, and was found standing on top of window sills. I was also largely protected from any kind of later humiliation. The staff who dealt with me were accustomed to mania, and my euphoric and antagonistic behaviour was really just another days work for them. Steven was the one who bore the brunt of my mood, and I know that if I were to continue the way I had been our relationship would begin to suffer. There is only so much patience a man can have.

 

But in the past, where I wasn’t protected by the hospital, my mood placed me in potentially dangerous situations, and hurt the people around me. For me, the euphoria, the creativity, the ideas and the confidence is just not worth that risk. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still happy, I’m still content, and I still allow myself to be so. The manic euphoria is distinctly different from everyday happiness and pleasure, and I’m able to recognise the difference.

So a few weeks ago, when I finished my shopping only to realise I had been singing out loud as I pushed my trolley, instead of giving into the euphoria I went home to bed instead. Then I completed the most mundane everday tasks you can think of. Cleaning the house. Doing the washing. And that night, when Steven and I sat down to watch TV together without fighting over my mood, it was worth it.

I’m sure there will be times where I am unable (or unwilling) to harness my moods in the way I have been recently. The memories of hospitalisation are still fresh in my head, and perhaps in a year or ten years those memories will fade. But I hope I always remember the trade off, the dark side. The dark side of the mood.

 

 

 

Mania

 

I have put off writing about my manic episode for a while. For starters my mania, I find, is very hard to write about. How can I begin to describe an experience that was so fast and loud and bright? It’s hard to remember, let alone describe, in what order events occurred. And can I even rely on my recollection of events anyway? I’m not sure. Hubster and I joke a lot about this particular manic episode. But in no way do I mean to make light of manic episodes. I was in hospital, safe and protected from any kind of danger. In other words, I was lucky. Manic episodes can be extremely dangerous. Indeed I fear mania far more than I fear depression. This was not my first manic episode, but it was the most extreme episode I have experienced. It all started one morning when I woke up with a ZING! The first thought in my head was “I’m cured!”

 

I felt good. Better than good. Brilliant! For the first time in months I had energy. The blackness had gone! I had ideas and plans racing around in my head so quickly that I could barely keep up with them. I called Hubster at the uncivilized time of 5:50am to tell him that I wanted to go to a restaurant and bake a cake. Afterwards I bounced out of bed and raced in to tell the nurses that I had been cured. I then informed them that I wouldn’t be attending meditation that morning, because I didn’t want to sit still. I had decided to go for a walk instead. My nurse that morning wasn’t terribly impressed warning “don’t get me into trouble Rachael!” as I waltzed out the doors. 

I   got no further than the park next to the hospital. The trees, the leaves…everything was so beautiful. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed it before! I lay down in the grass under a tree marvelling at the beauty that was surrounding me. The feel of the breeze on my face, the grass under my skin, the sun…the beauty was literally overwhelming. Finally I stood up and made my way back to the unit. I was so focused on the beauty around me that I very nearly got hit by a car.

 Back at the unit I started to tell a student nurse about my experience. Well. ‘Tell’ is a nice way of putting it. The clinical term for it is ‘pressured speech’. I myself prefer ‘verbal diarrhea’. I talked and talked and talked, not pausing for a breath. I told her about the trees, and the leaves, and how I wanted to write a book, and where I wanted to travel..and…and..and…and! I’m sure she was cursing the moment she had initiated a conversation with me. But she was far too polite to tell me to shut up.

 

It was then time to see the doctor. I sat down on the sofa and waited until I had the attention of both doctors and my nurse before dramatically proclaiming “I’m cured!”.  Then I talked and I talked. I remember at the time watching all three of the staff looking at each other, raising their eyebrows. But I didn’t care. I was having a fabulous time holding court.  And man, I had some interesting stuff to say!

 

 When my doctor was finally able to interject, she told me that I seemed to be  ‘high’. I agreed and told her it was fantastic, before launching on a rather random tirade about how I should have never been put on ‘special’ supervision. I think after a while the staff  realised that it was absolutely pointless to try and have a sane conversation with me. It was at that point that my doctor snapped my file shut and turned to the second doctor. “I’m canceling leave”. She said firmly. I was devastated, I had been supposed to go home that weekend  for leave. I burst into tears, I pleaded and begged, but no amount of tears were going to change my doctors mind.

After the appointment I decided to call Hubster to tell him the tragic news. What I wasn’t expecting was:
“GOOD! I’m glad they cancelled leave. I’m not saying you have Bipolar, Rachael, but there is something not right about you at the moment.”

Yeah, that pissed me off. From that moment on I started waging a war. A war of ‘us’ against ‘them’. And in my opinion Hubster had very firmly planted himself with ‘them’.

 

 

At this point I must say that the nursing staff in that unit must have the absolute patience of a saint. From this point on I became, for lack of a better term, a thundering pain in the neck. Someone who can’t sit still, can’t concentrate on any activities, doesn’t sleep and won’t shut up is annoying enough. But someone who does all of this in addition to making it her mission to antagonise as many people as possible must have been a complete nightmare to deal with.

I went to group and attempted to derail the topic of conversation with inane questions and comments. I interrupted private conversations between staff and patients to have my say. I concluded that some flowers that were delivered to the hospital were evil, and asserted this to everyone who commented on how nice they were. And Hubster, poor Hubster, I took my frustration out on him the most. I’m not surprised that he was glad that I was not coming home that weekend!

 

As the days went on I just seemed to get higher. I didn’t seem to need to sleep, I didn’t feel hungry. I felt sexy, and confident,  powerful and in control. Given my lack of need for sleep I  started to suspect that I was, in fact, superhuman.

 I was allowed home for an hour or so and I selected a short little dress to wear (I hadn’t thought to bring cocktail attire to the hospital). While at home I put on some music, took off all my clothes and danced around the house. Unsatisfied with this I decided I should go out to the street and dance naked in the rain.  Surprisingly, I felt, Hubster was less than impressed with this idea and decided it was time for me to go back to the unit. I then refused to put my clothes on until Hubster started dialing my doctors phone number. Beaten, I put my little dress back on again.

But what goes up must come down, and come crashing down it did. Back at the unit I held my crying baby, trying my best to comfort him. Tears ran down my cheeks as I watched him cry, all I wanted to do was help him. Steven saw that I was getting upset and offered to take Master D from me. Something flipped inside me and I became angry, telling him that “I was his mother, I should know what to do”.

Sensing that things were escalating Hubster left then returned with two nurses. I shouted at them to stay away, they tried to take Master D away, but I held onto him. Finally the nurses grabbed my arms, physically restrained me and took my little boy away. I know that I was aggressive and out of control, I know that the nurses did the right thing, but I will never ever forget the feeling of my baby boy being ripped from my arms. My heart shattered into pieces.

I was then, quite literally, frogmarched into my room to be shouted at. Finally I was left alone and I cried and cried and curled up in a ball on my bed. After a while the nurse came back and invited me to come out of my room, I declined. She came back again and again, trying to tempt me with hot drinks, movie’s on the telly and coming to see what my baby was doing. But I was terrified of leaving my room. I was so embarrassed, so humiliated of all the silly things I had said and done. I didn’t feel powerful anymore, I felt tiny.

But eventually I tiptoed to my door and looked down the hall. Hubster was standing there holding Master D, he grinned at me and beckoned for me to come and join him. Taking a deep breath I left my room and slowly walked towards him.

“I’m so sorry” I said, both to him and to Master D. He could have embarrassed me, or told me off, said he was ashamed of me, he would have the perfect right to have done any of this, considering the way I had treated him. But instead he just said the three words that I desperately needed to hear.

I love you.

 

 

 

Bipolar Bear

 

The first time my doctor told me that she thought I had bipolar disorder I almost choked on my Tim Tam (sneakily purchased from the local supermarket…I can assure you the public health system does not provide such wonderful chocolate snacks). “You’ve got to be kidding me!” I spluttered. “I have been horribly depressed for months…I FINALLY feel good, and I’ve got a disorder?!

Of course I was in the midst of a manic episode at that moment…but we’ll get to that some other time 😉

The point is, I had a fairly strong and ignorant idea as to what bipolar disorder was, and was of the utmost confidence that I certainly didn’t fit that category, thank you very much. bipolar disorder, to me, conjured images of really crazy people. Take the word ‘manic’ add a letter and you get ‘maniac’. Coincidence? I think not. Postnatal depression, I thought, well that’s one thing.  But bipolar? Woah man…let’s  not get carried away!

What is interesting is that I am by no means  uneducated in terms of clinical psychological knowledge. I have an undergraduate degree in psychology, have volunteered as a telephone counsellor, and have spent time with many individuals who live with what society describes as a ‘mental illness’. Logically, I knew that all psychological distress has a place on a continuum and there are shades of grey. Yet when I was faced with a potential diagnosis all I saw was black or white: crazy or sane. And I didn’t want to be the crazy one.

When my mania started to ease I finally started to think seriously about my potential diagnosis. My doctor took care to take time to describe the symptoms, explain why she suspected I had the disorder, and encouraged me to ask as many questions as I pleased. One day I decided to conduct my own research on the matter. I read website after website, page after page of symptoms and clinical descriptions, determined to find something that didn’t fit. Something I could gleefully take back to my doctor to prove her wrong. But at the end of it all I just sighed and sat back in my chair.

“Oh crap.” I said out loud to myself. “I think I’ve got bipolar”.

One evening at the hospital I voiced my concerns to Hubster. “Do you still love me….even if I’ve got bipolar.”

Hubster barely looked up. “Course I do” he said, as sure as if I had asked him if he likes Star Wars.

“But I’m….” I struggled to find a word, “INSANE!” I spluttered.

“You’re not insane” Hubster said, stroking my hair. “You’re going through a hard time. And I’m here…for better or worse, in sickness or in health, remember?”. I breathed a sigh of relief. “There is one thing though…” Hubster said “I can’t call you my Chi Bear anymore.”

I looked at him, startled. Chi Bear was his nickname for me.

“Why not?!” I asked.

“Because I will have to call you my Bipolar Bear now!” We both collapsed into giggles. It was the first time we had joked about my illness. Now, of course, we’ve graduated to fully fledged piss taking where any mention of maniacs or arctic dwelling bears is sure to set us off.

 

It was then that I realised that I was still me, I hadn’t changed. Bipolar had been with me all along but it just didn’t have a name. A diagnosis is simply a word. A term to describe a collection of symptoms that I happened to have. A tool for categorizing individuals such to predict their likely response to various treatment protocols.  “We diagnose” my doctor had told me, “not to label, but because it’s easier to treat someone if we know what we are dealing with, and what usually works for people with similar symptoms”.

Now I feel that bipolar disorder is merely an aspect of my life. I no longer feel shame in what I have experienced, and feel comfortable to talk about my story to those who ask. I feel relief that there is an explanation for the experiences I have had, and that I have access to a treatment which is currently working. I feel grateful for the lessons I have learned throughout this experience, and for the strength I now feel I posses. But I won’t ever let it define me. I’m not bipolar. I’m Rachael, and I have bipolar disorder.