My Experience Only. YMMV.

Posts tagged ‘bipolar disorder’

Bipolar Sex: Drought and Abundance

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Here’s something bipolar people talk about amongst themselves but not so much with the world outside: sex.

The two poles of bipolar, depression and mania, govern a person’s appetite for sex. A lot of other factors determine whether the sex will be any good, or good for the participants.

Of course the above is true for neurotypical people as well. Moods and emotions – things in the brain – have as much or more to do with sex than stuff in the body. Thinking about sex and wanting sex, for example, start in the brain and without them, nothing else is likely to happen anywhere else.

The depression side of bipolar sex is easy enough to map out. After all, some of the hallmarks of depression are numbness, inability to enjoy things that once gave pleasure, and a tendency to isolate. It’s hard to get your motor revving with all that going on.

Still, the depressed person may want to have sex, or at least want to want to. That’s the way it’s been with me. When I’m in a thoroughly depressed state, sex doesn’t even cross my mind. When I’m not quite as depressed, I think I might like to have sex but don’t have the energy for it. And when I’m relatively stable, there’s the meds.

It’s well known that medications for bipolar disorder can kill the sex drive and in men the ability to get or maintain an erection. Some drugs supposedly have less effect on sexuality, but I’ve never found the magic combination. Or the supposed sex-friendly drug has had side effects I can’t tolerate.

So if bipolar depression is largely a big zero for bipolar sex, how about mania?

Overactive sex drive combined with a lack of impulse control can lead to sexual excess. The tendency to minimize risk-taking behaviors means that some of that sex can be detrimental to one’s health, relationships, and self-esteem. Riding that wave is exhilarating, but then, inevitably, comes the crash and the need to pick up the pieces.

Full disclosure here: Since I have bipolar 2 and my hypomania tends to turn sideways and come out as anxiety, I don’t experience that manic sex high. On the whole, I think I am grateful for this. Sex has never been such an important part of my life that I would risk everything for it.

Once, though, I did experience what you might call a hypomanic sex drive. It smoldered for a long time, requited but unconsummated, until the right set of circumstances presented themselves. It was a restlessness, an obsessive thought, a longing for connection, rather than an ungovernable rush of need. It gave me, perhaps, a glimpse of what it might be like to be manic and sexually stimulated. But I’ll never really know.

I do know that I am glad I had the experience, whatever it was. I’m glad it was safe sex.  I’m glad it didn’t destroy relationships. But just to feel that desire again, even if only for a brief time, even with the anxiety it provoked – and there was lots – it was a kind of affirmation that my body and brain are still connected in some vital way.

Most of the time I limp along with only thoughts of sex too fleeting to act upon. And maybe this is not the best way to live, but I have made my peace with it. And once in a great while, every now and then, I still am reminded that I can have a sexual existence.

Even though I have bipolar.

Of course, as always, your mileage may vary.

The Disability Tapdance

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Once I applied for disability for my bipolar disorder and I was turned down Then I took the process as far as I could with a lawyer and he eventually advised me to give it up too. Here’s my story.

I had gotten to the end of my proverbial rope and we had gotten to the end of our money. For over a year I had been sidelined by unremitting depression. There was nothing I could do and nothing my psychiatrist prescribed or my therapist said had helped. We had been living on my husband’s salary and what was in my 401K from when I had last been able to work.

At last my husband pointed out that we couldn’t hold out much longer. He encouraged me to apply for disability. I knew that there would be lots of hoops to jump through and that there was no guarantee of succeeding. But Dan was willing to go with me to the Federal Building and help me get through it. I certainly wasn’t capable of managing it on my own.

Between the two of us, we had looked up what sorts of documents I would need and had acquired them. I was glad we were able to do this because going back again and again for missing documents would have been a horror. I had my appointment with the intake person and went back home to wait.

There were more forms to come. My psychiatrist had to fill out a long one, of course, or write a letter, I don’t remember which. I had to pay him for his time and trouble in doing that but at that point it was just another step that needed taking.

The big step was the psychological interview where I had to perform my little song and dance and convince someone that I was truly disabled. Fortunately, the appointment was not downtown in the Federal Building but in a relatively nearby office building that I knew how to find. Then the hoop-jumping and tap dancing really began.

They tested my memory. They told convoluted stories and asked me questions about them such as the order in which things happened and why the characters did what they did. They were confusing.

They tested my spatial perception. They had me put together those cubes with triangles on them to match patterns they showed me. I still don’t know what that had to do with bipolar disorder.

Then came factual knowledge. I was good at that one. I admit I guessed when they asked me how big around the equator was. I knew the easy stuff like who wrote Tom Sawyer and such.

By the time they got to the word association test, I was very tired. First they gave a pair of words and asked what they had in common, easy ones like truck and train. Later they gave difficult pairs of words that seemed to have nothing in common, like acceptance and denial, but I was supposed to come up with a commonality anyway.

Finally, an interview. I remember the woman asking me if I knew what the saying, “What goes around, comes around” meant. I replied, “As you sow, so shall you reap” and she looked at me funny.

A seemingly endless time later my claim was denied and I got a lawyer to pursue it. By that time so much time had passed that I was coming out of the depression and was able to work a few hours a week. How much did I get paid per hour? he asked. “Thirty dollars,” I said, explaining that I could only work a very limited number of hours. It didn’t matter. As soon as I said thirty dollars the judge’s head would explode, evidently. Lawyer Joe recommended I drop the claim and I did. At least I was getting some work and some income even without disability.

It seemed that for me to get disability I would have had to be together enough not to need it, but sufficiently disabled that I would. Catch-22, as Joseph Heller said.

 

 

Inspiration and Mental Illness

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I was manicky this week and it affected my blog writing. I had a post all ready to go this morning, but last night I thought about it and realized it was crap. It meandered, without focus. The ideas were confused. It sucked. So I got up this morning to write something different instead.

Many of you may recognize this aspect of mania or hypomania. You do something that you think is fantastic  while in the grip of mania and when you come down, you can’t see what you ever saw in it. Or you begin an ambitious project that you work on and work on but never can complete.

I was toying with the idea of “inspiration porn” – the sort of post or story or TV show that holds someone up as an ideal, usually because they’ve lost a bunch of weight and gotten themselves into shape, or have an illness or disability and managed to do – whatever – again. Think “The Biggest Loser.” Or amputees who’ve learned to eat with their feet. It’s put out there for entertainment and to make everyone feel good that whoever it is conquered whatever it was. It takes a regular person out of the context of their lives and reduces them to their condition. And the subtext is that if this brave person can become able to do or be whatever again, so can everyone else with the same problem.

It happened to a friend of mine who was at a gym on a treadmill. A woman came up to her and said how inspiring it was to see her working so hard to lose all that weight. “Excuse me?” was my friend’s reaction. She was doing it for herself, not for anyone else, and especially not to inspire some random stranger.

The thing is, there really isn’t any mental health inspiration porn. For one thing, it would make lousy TV. Oh, they’d get advertisers – all those purveyors of psychotropics that clog the airwaves. But who would watch a depressed person finally getting out of bed and taking a shower, unless she had a coach yelling at her?

Inspiration for those of us with mental health problems takes other forms. Celebrities who speak about their struggles with mental illness are one. They are inspiring because they break the taboo about talking about mental illness in public and because they have done so to help other people.

Then there are the superstars of mental health inspiration. Carrie Fisher, Glenn Close, and Jenny Lawson, to name a few. These are people who focus light on the difficulties and struggles of mental illness. Their communications don’t stop with the announcement that they have a condition and encouraging people to get treatment, though those are also good things. But the real inspirations are those who open their lives, take others with them through the journey of symptoms, treatments, relapses, small triumphs, and bigger successes. They speak and keep speaking and keep speaking their message. They don’t make the process sound easy, because it isn’t. And they speak with authenticity and authority because we know they’ve been there.

They do inspire us because they are honest and open, and they clearly care about helping others in the same proverbial boat.

We lost a true inspiration when we lost Mama Carrie. No one will ever really take her place. But you can tell that she was an inspiration by the many people whose life she touched and how they remember her. If someday they make a movie of her life, I hope it features not only her personal struggles, but all that she did for others. Her speaking and continuing to speak despite – or because – of her ongoing struggles.

We can carry on her work by doing the same, by shedding the stigma, by talking to others, even family and friends. Recently a friend “came out” to me that she takes an antidepressant and an anti-anxiety med (the same ones I take). I was proud of her, but I didn’t make a big deal of it. But I was impressed and pleased that she was able and willing to share even that much. She was saying that she was part of our tribe.

As Jenny Lawson reminds us, in this we are alone together. And that’s inspiring. 

Back to Work – Full Time

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As is true with many of us who can manage to work only part-time while dealing with bipolar disorder, I was always one paycheck away from financial disaster.

Then the checks stopped coming.

When my main source of work dried up, that financial disaster loomed closer. I knew that it was time to try to go back to regular work. Full-time. Outside in the world, if need be, rather than in my home office, in my jammies.

Looking for work was a job in itself (https://wp.me/p4e9wS-zY). It turns out I’m overqualified for many things and underqualified for others, sometimes both at once.

And the specter of bipolar reared its fearsome head. Even if I found full-time work, could I do it? Especially out there where it’s all people-y? It’s been years since I’ve worked in such an environment and my last few years at it did not go well, as I was beginning to slide into a major, long-lasting bipolar depressive episode.

Looking for work at home was not much better. Even telephone jobs (customer service or order handling, please, not sales) required some experience and my Girl Scout cookie days were back when we still thought it was safe to go door-to-door. When I responded to work-from-home jobs, many of them turned out to be Uber or Lyft, which is hardly the same as work-at-home, if you ask me.

I found a couple of small gigs to tide me over. Then I found one that was really promising.

Proofreader.

They warned me during the phone interview that I was vastly overqualified. I told them that this kind of job was exactly what I needed at this point in my life and please to keep me in mind if any of the other candidates washed out.

The job was with a transcription service, proofing scripts of meetings and reports that other people had typed up from audio files. But there wasn’t much of it, and it didn’t pay very well.

Then they asked me if I would move up to typing. And whether I would do it full-time.

Those were separate questions. I’m not a fast or good typist. I never took typing in high school (though I discovered that I needed it once I got into college). All these years I’ve been faking it, looking at the keyboard and using at most six or seven fingers to type with. But I said I’d try and I did. I’ve been sweating over these typing jobs and they take me lots longer than they do for other, ten-fingered, trained typists, but I’ve been hitting my deadlines.

Full-time was another issue. I said I’d try, with the understanding that I’d go back to part-time if I couldn’t handle it. It’s certainly been a challenge, forcing myself to spend six or more hours at the keyboard five days a week (and then using my days off to write blogs and work on my novel). It’s exhausting. But at least I’m still in my jammies and ready to go to bed afterward.

And I’ve learned a few things. One is “Never volunteer.” Often the company has extra work with even tighter deadlines that pay more per minute and are up for grabs. I made the mistake of grabbing a couple. It nearly did me in, combined with my regular work. (I did get an Amazon gift card for working on the Fourth of July.) Full-time work is hard enough. Full-time plus is a meat-grinder, or I should say a me-grinder.

So now for the big question – did I disclose my bipolar disorder?

I did not. As long as could do the work, it didn’t seem relevant. Work-at-home is not the sort of gig where they make accommodations or modifications for those with disabilities. And if I can keep up my stability and relative mental health, and get time off for doctor’s appointments, my mental status shouldn’t be relevant.

But I’m thinking I may have to cut back to four days a week. Five days is running me ragged. And then in December, when I retire, I can give it up altogether or work only a couple of days a week.

I will have a fixed income, which has both good and bad points, but at least it will lift from me the crushing anxiety of “Will we make the mortgage this month?” (I never was able to get disability.)

So, for now at least, and for the next few months, I will be working full- or almost full-time, if only my bipolar disorder will let me.

Wish me luck.

(Full disclosure: That photo is not an actual representation of my writing space. Mine is littered with legal pads, stuffed animals, Kleenex, and water bottles.)

Forgiving and Forgetting

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Forgive and forget. That’s the saying.

To err is human; to forgive, divine. That’s another saying.

But what about when you can’t forget and can’t forgive? When you’re human, not divine?

Forgiveness is a tough subject for me, because there are things I can’t forget, despite the fact that either my bipolar disorder or my meds have made my memory spotty at best. But there are things I remember too well. And some of those I can’t forgive.

I can’t forgive the person who called my mother a murderer because she had her sick, ancient little dog euthanized. And then kept rubbing her face in it by saying she did not support my mother’s actions. This person caused my mother unnecessary pain when what she needed were understanding and comfort. By those criteria, I am a murderer too. A person that toxic is someone I don’t need in my life.

And maybe that’s wrong of me, but it was my decision.

Another person I can’t forget or forgive is my gaslighter, Rex, about whom I’ve written before (see https://wp.me/p4e9Hv-pm, https://wp.me/p4e9Hv-dR, https://wp.me/p4e9Hv-4t). In one of those posts I said, of forgiving and forgetting:

I can’t do either. The memories have faded over time and seldom give me flashbacks anymore. (The dreams still come.) As for forgiving? He’s never asked for it and never would. I’m sure he doesn’t think he did anything that needed forgiving….

That emotional abuse happened, and I can’t forget it. It was my first serious relationship and I left chunks of my soul and most of my barely existent self-esteem in that house on the hilltop. I had failed – at the relationship, at meeting my parents’ expectations, at so many things. I felt I was the one who needed forgiveness and spent much of the following years repeating incessantly, “I’m sorry.”

I once encountered a Christian who said that the essence of forgiveness was to “fore-give,” to give someone something before they ask for it, as in Jesus, fore-giving his life for His followers. Or giving a homeless person your coat before they ask for it.

I’ve since been told that that’s an inaccurate reading of the word “forgive.” But at the time it stuck with me and influenced my thinking. If that was forgiveness, I didn’t understand it and couldn’t accomplish it. Something to do with that “to forgive, divine” thing.

I couldn’t fore-give my mother’s pain. I surely wouldn’t have given it to her myself and I couldn’t fore-give that other person the right or the opportunity to do so.

I couldn’t fore-give Rex my pain. I gave him enough of my life – over a year – as well as some of my hopes and dreams and aspirations. And yes, at the time, my love.

I’ve thought about writing him a letter, the kind that therapists often suggest you write as an exercise in exploring your feelings, explaining what went on from my point of view. But I haven’t – not even the kind that you don’t mail.

It would be futile. I’ve written about the person and the pain here in these posts and it hasn’t done a thing toward making me forget or forgive. Far from forgetting, I sometimes need to remind myself of the pain – to affirm to myself that yes, it really was that awful and to warn myself never to get caught in a situation like that again.

I don’t go through my life holding grudges against everyone who has ever wronged me (or my mother). Everyday hurts – unless they come every day – are possible to let go of. I’ve mostly forgotten the kids who bullied me in school. And I’ve forgiven them. They were kids and didn’t know any better. I’ve forgiven friends who have cut me out of their lives because they couldn’t handle my bipolar symptoms. Sometimes I can’t handle the symptoms either. If I get fed up with my disorder, it’s easy to see how someone else could too.

I’m not going to give you any advice on forgiveness and whether you should forgive or not. The topic is too complex and I don’t know how or why you’ve been wronged.

All I’m going to say is to be a little easy on yourself if you find you can’t forgive what you can’t forget. Those sayings about forgiveness are guidelines, not laws, and your situation may not fit into those guidelines. Just know that I do understand.

Realistic Self-Care

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I hate articles about self-care for mental illness such as the one I saw recently that said:

…[W]ays I practice self-care include swimming and Pilates, getting regular massages, spending time with friends and family, since staying connected is an essential part of emotional health at every age, watching TV, and seeing movies. I also love going for walks, especially near Santa Monica beach, and reading or listening to books.

If I could do all those things, I wouldn’t need self-care! When I’m depressed or anxious, I cannot make myself swim or exercise, or even get out of bed and shower at times, which lets out going to the movies and spending time with friends, too. I can maybe read a book or listen to a podcast if I’m not too twitchy and if my attention span and concentration will cooperate. And I can sit on the sofa and watch TV, but that feels like uselessness, not self-care.

Plus, guess what? A lot of those activities cost money.  Massages, movies, exercise classes (for which you need exercise clothes), and swimming (for which you need a swimsuit) would all require “shopping therapy,” which I loathe IRL and can’t afford online.

I personally would love a massage, but that’s not self-care for everyone. As Emily Roberts points out in “Self-Care for Mental Health: Find Ways That Work for You”:

The myth of a massage as an essential self-care activity – or anything that makes you more anxious – isn’t helpful for your mental health. I didn’t listen to my body the first time I booked a massage and guess what? It was so triggering to my body I couldn’t even finish it….I started to cry and couldn’t compose myself 10 minutes into the appointment. I was embarrassed and confused. I thought, “This stuff works for all the people in the magazines. What is wrong with me?”

I decided that booking an extra appointment with my therapist and having a date with my best friend was more helpful as self-care for my mental health than pushing myself to practice self-care in the way the media was telling me to.

One person’s mani-pedi can be another’s nightmare. I much prefer small ideas for self-care rather than big expeditions or splurges. For me, comfort food is one form of self-care. It has to be something I can make easily, though, like frozen mashed potatoes, mac-n-cheese, or French bread pizzas. (The microwave is my friend.)

Of course, these comforts require a little planning when I’m not overwhelmed to the point that I need self-care to restore me. I must think ahead, during those times when I’m able to go to the store, to bring home the foods that are easy to make yet soothing.

Another self-care technique I came across is definitely more my speed. Caiti Gearsbeck, in “Make Your Own Mental Health Self Care Kit” offers a simple, DIY alternative. She recommends filling a shoebox or other box with soothing things that appeal to all five senses, plus a few activities. Here are a few of her examples:

Sight: photos, cards, and letters

Smell: essential oils or candles

Taste: chocolate or tea

Sound: meditation CD or an mp3 player with a playlist

Touch: soft cloth or stuffed animal, stress ball or fidget cube

Activities: coloring books and pencils, a journal, a favorite movie

She adds: Whatever works for you!

For me, that box would contain photos, Irish Spring soap, oolong tea, an mp3 player, a stuffed animal (I have lots to choose from), and a CD of The Mikado. I’d need a cat in the box, too. But given the nature of cats, there would probably be one in there anyway, whether I wanted it or not. All of that is stuff I have around the house, unless I’m out of Irish Spring or oolong. Add a quiet room like the bedroom or my study and I’m all set. At least until I can afford a massage.

 

References

https://blogs.psychcentral.com/millennial/2017/10/make-your-own-mental-health-self-care-kit/

https://www.jwi.org/articles/mental-health-and-self-care

https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/buildingselfesteem/2018/5/self-care-for-mental-health-find-ways-that-work-for-you

The Compliant Patient

My mother was not a compliant patient. She would have side effects from medication and just stop taking them: The meds gave her sores in her mouth or nauseated her.  And that’s valid. We’ve all had medications that we couldn’t tolerate because of the side effects. But Mom stopped taking them without telling her doctor. Once she went to the emergency room, where they had a list of the meds she was supposedly still on and I had to tell intake, “No, she stopped taking that one. And that one too, I think.” (She was not mentally ill, but that’s where I’m going with this.)

There is only one psychotropic medication I know of (though there may be others by now that I haven’t heard about), where the potential side effects are so horrible – potentially lethal – that patients are advised to stop taking them immediately and get medical help right away.  The side effect is called Stevens-Johnson Syndrome and it is a potentially fatal rash.  I wrote about it a few years ago, (https://wp.me/p4e9Hv-1g)

Other than that one instance, psychotropic medications should never be discontinued unless you have consulted your physician. You never know what withdrawal symptoms lie in wait for you, but they’re bound to be unpleasant, even if they don’t cause you to relapse, which could easily happen. Withdrawal from any drug is not fun; it’s to be avoided.

Nonetheless, I read posts in support groups all the time which say that people have decided by themselves to stop taking a medication, or even all their medications on their own. I have friends who have taken their treatment into their own hands this way.

There are several reasons they sometimes give for giving up medications. One is that the meds aren’t working. What they really mean is that the meds aren’t working yet. Many psychotropics don’t show positive effects until they have built up in your bloodstream, which can easily take four to six weeks. Expecting results in a day or two is unreasonable.

Others stop taking their meds because they “feel better” and think they no longer need the pills. This is just ridiculous. The meds are the reason that you feel better. Your psychiatric condition does not just go away, like the flu, when you feel better. Your disorder may soon come roaring back (or creeping back). And the thing is, when you restart a medication, it sometimes no longer works as effectively. Then you have to start all over with a new prescription and have another four to six weeks of symptoms while you wait to find out if it works or doesn’t.

Still other people simply don’t like taking medications.  This I don’t understand.  People take meds for flu and infections and such conditions and never seem to resent them. Maybe it’s the idea that you could well be – will likely be – on psychotropics for the rest of your life. But lots of people have meds they need for life – insulin, cholesterol meds, anti-inflammatories, asthma meds, thyroid meds, and others. People don’t quit taking those just because they don’t like to take pills or injections.

I think the real reason people don’t like to take their psychiatric meds is that they’re psychiatric meds. There is still massive stigma around the subject of mental illness. Taking medication for a mental illness means admitting you have one, which some people are reluctant to do.

Or they may be giving in to “pill-shaming.” There are plenty of people, perhaps in your own family – and certainly across the Internet – who will tell you that all you need is self-love or affirmations or sunshine or exercise or vitamins or meditation or willpower to banish your mental illness. Funny how they never tell people that sunshine will cure their broken leg or that exercise will cure their breast cancer.

I hesitate to say that I love my psychotropics, but in a way I do. They have brought me out of states of mind that were harmful to me. They have made it possible for me to function and create and communicate. They probably have saved my life.

Occasionally I let my psychiatrist know that I may need a change in dosage or that one of meds is no longer working. I’ve even reviewed with him whether there are any meds I could quit taking (there aren’t at the moment). But I keep taking them faithfully, every day, morning and night.

I need the psychotropics. So I am a compliant patient.

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