My Experience Only. YMMV.

Posts tagged ‘hypomania’

When Bipolar Disorder Wrecks Your Sex Life (NSFW)

I had a hot sex dream last night. That’s fortunate, as it’s the only hot sex likely for me these days. I have bipolar disorder 2 and tend toward the depressed.

I have only once experienced the hypomanic rush that leads one to the desire for uninhibited, crazy, insistent, steamy motel sex. So I can’t really tell you much about that, except to make sure it’s safe sex, even if it is spontaneous, wild, and compelling. Coping with the aftermath is also something I can’t help with.

So. Bipolar depression and sex. (I am writing from the point of view of a cis-gender heterosexual female, so YMMV.)

It will likely come as no surprise to you to learn that bipolar disorder has an effect on your sex life. And, aside from mania, that effect is to lessen or completely kill it. And there are varying levels: low libido, lack of desire, difficulty ejaculating, etc. The question is what to do about it. Here are some examples of advice:

[S]ex is a part of life and it’s a part you don’t want, or need, to hang up just because you have a mental illness…There are therapeutic techniques that can deal with hypersexuality or low sex drive, and, of course, there are always medical options as well.

http://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2013/01/normal-sex-bipolar/

And this:

Getting bipolar disorder under control is the first step to improving your sex life. It’s easier to address these issues when your moods are stable. Many people with bipolar disorder have healthy relationships and satisfying sex lives. The key is working with your doctor to find the right treatment and talking with your partner about any sexual issues.

http://www.healthline.com/health/bipolar-disorder/sexual-health#outlook5

And that’s all well and wonderful, but how much does it actually help?

Not that I’m an expert, but here’s what I can say about the subject.

Realize that most of sex happens in the brain. The body goes along for the ride. If you’re bipolar, you’re already having trouble with your brain. It makes sense that you’d have trouble with sex too. Don’t beat yourself up. It can be a nuisance or a sorrow or a loss, but it doesn’t have to be a tragedy.

Decide how much sex you actually need in your life. Some people have naturally low sex drives and are quite satisfied with long gaps between sexual encounters or occasional masturbation. If this is the case for you, dandy. The real problem comes when you and your partner(s) have a mismatch in your sex drive. That’s where the talking comes in.

Ask for what you need and encourage your partner to do the same. And accept and/or give what you can. If you need a hug or a cuddle, ask for it. If your partner asks for one, give it. Don’t push for more right then. Even if you have no desire for “the act” yourself, you may be able to give your partner some of what she/he needs. Or vice versa. Of course, if you’re at the very depths, you may not even be able to ask for a hug. But if one is offered, don’t turn it down. Keeping that bond going may improve your connection when the depression has eased.

You can try different medications or see an endocrinologist, but don’t expect quick results. Or any, necessarily. The one drug that peps up your libido may also be the one that gives you side effects you can’t handle. And after years of trying different combinations of pills, you may decide, like I did, that having a reasonably functioning brain is more important to you than having regular sex. In other words, you may face a trade-off.

Listen to your body as well as your brain. I already know that my brain is not performing up to specs. Occasionally, when I’m reading a book or watching a movie or remembering a dream or thinking about an old friend, I feel something that reminds me of what it is to feel desire. If that happens, enjoy and encourage it. It’s a signal that you may not be totally numb from the neck down.

I could tell you that everything will be okay and you’ll soon be back to romping between the sheets with wild abandon. I haven’t seen statistics on it, but it seems unlikely. If you want to get your sex life started again, you’re going to have to work at it, just like you work at taming your bipolar disorder.

 

Getting in Touch With My Hypomanic Side

I know all about how it feels to have depression. For dozens of years, that was my diagnosis and my daily companion – unipolar depression.

In the last dozen years or so, however, I have had to come to grips with the idea that I am actually bipolar – bipolar type 2, specifically. And that I sometimes have hypomania.

It was quite a revelation.

I didn’t believe I had ever felt manic in my life. I couldn’t recall feeling anything but miserable, despondent, and worthless. Although objectively, I was doing well in school and in college, had a few friends, and was never suicidal, in fact I was a depressive mess. Later, as I learned more about mania, I was able to identify some manic – or at least hypomanic episodes that had occurred during that time, but that I had never noticed when they were happening.

When I was hypomanic, I thought I was just feeling what everyone else described as “normal” – happy, able to enjoy activities, functioning pretty well. They didn’t last long, but I didn’t realize how very tenuous and brittle those good feelings were – how they could be shattered by the slightest bump, plunging me back into the old familiar depression. It was even more depressing to think that I couldn’t even do feeling good right.

I struggled along under these circumstances for years, until at last one-half of my problem was diagnosed – the depression half, of course. It certainly was the most noticeable half, the most troubling, and the most disruptive of the problems that plagued me.

My doctor prescribed Prozac and I remember it working pretty well at first – at least when it kicked in after about six weeks of taking it. I can remember feelings of calm, contentment, and enjoyment. It changed my life, and probably saved it. Prozac didn’t alleviate all my problems, but it did let me glimpse a world in which they were not the only things that existed. It’s not too extreme to say that I rejoiced.

But, unknown to me (and my doctor), I was not purely unipolar at that time – or ever. What was happening to the lurking hypomania during while the depression was being treated? Did it disappear? Did the Prozac take care of it too?

No. With the depression more or less at bay, hypomania found new outlets to express itself – as anxiety, for example. I had a spell of being alarmed in the cereal aisles of grocery stores. There was a time (not yet completely gone) when I thought other drivers were swerving into my lane, even when I was a passenger. (That one alarmed my husband too, when I would fling out my arms and gasp or cower, shaking in my seat, at the thought that a crash was imminent.)

My psychiatrist later explained to me that these were manifestations of hypomania that came out sideways, as anxiety instead of euphoria, ambition, desire, exaltation, and assorted addictive or destructive behavior. Trust me to have the less-fun alternative. (Although somewhat less life-wrecking.)

Since that revelation, I have tried to harness my hypomania and use my power for good. I channel my hypomanic binges into writing, for example. I can’t say that it’s always good writing, but at least I get words on the screen that I can fix up later. I usually have several projects – paying and non-paying (like this blog) going at the same time, so I can switch among them as needed. That may be hypomania too.

Sometimes I can even use my hypomanic fits to enjoy myself – have a pleasant lunch out, read a book, do a puzzle, have a conversation with my husband or another friend. Of course, these activities do not always fit in well with my hypomania. At times, instead of simply enjoying these activities and sensations, I am too twitchy and nervous to relax and enjoy them.

I must admit that two of my strategies for controlling my hypomanic spells are naps and anti-anxiety pills, not necessarily in that order. But at least I am getting better at identifying when the anxiety, which I used to think of as free-floating, is actually a form of hypomania. Then a combination of hot tea, silence, cat-petting, reading, and Ativan can bring me back to some kind of stasis.

If not, I just have to accept that I’m having a hypomanic episode and try to stay away from things I can buy using my PayPal account.

Bipolar Robbed Me of Reading

I don’t remember a time when I couldn’t read.

Except when bipolar disorder took it away from me.

I was what they call a “natural reader” – someone who learns to read without being taught. Someone who just picks it up out of the air. And for me, reading was like breathing. It kept me going, kept me alive. Reading was part and parcel of my identity. I was never without a book within reach. I read while eating, walking down the hall, going to sleep, riding in a car.

Throughout my undiagnosed childhood years, reading was a way for me and my brain to play nicely together. If I was depressed, I could lose myself in escapist fantasy. If I was hypomanic, I could soar on adventures. And during the in-between times, I had access to unlimited worlds – places, people, situations, ideas, conversations – both familiar and strangely new. Reading was my joy and my solace.

For many years, reading was therapeutic. I could not only lose myself and escape the unpleasantness of my disorder for a time, I could learn more about depression and bipolar disorder, compare my experiences with those of others who struggled with mental illness, discover how medicine and law and psychology and sociology could shine a light on my experiences. I could even (God help me!) read self-help books, which were popular at the time, and learn all sorts of theories and techniques that didn’t improve what was wrong with me.

Books and words were my life. I got degrees in English language and literature. I read for work and for fun. I edited magazines, wrote articles and (occasionally) children’s stories, worked on textbooks.

Then my brain broke and reading went away.

I had a major depressive episode, which lasted literally years, and during that time I found it nearly impossible to read.

Why? My old companions, depression and hypomania.

Depression made me dull. I didn’t care about anything and found no happiness even in the books that had always been my refuge. I remember picking up a book that I more than loved and had returned to dozens of times, that had shaped my life in many ways, thinking that the familiar words would touch something still buried inside me. But this time there was no magic. Not even interest. The words were flat and dull, mere ink on the page. Reading – engaging with an author’s ideas, imagining characters, following plots and dialogue, discovering facts – was beyond me.

And hypomania? My version, instead of bringing euphoria, brought anxiety – an overwhelming twitchiness and fear of the unknown, jumping not just at shadows, but at the idea of shadows, things that had never happened. My attention span shrank to nearly nothing. I could barely read a few pages, not even a chapter, and when I was finally able to get back to a book, I was lost, disconnected.

Now that I am recovering from that episode, I am glad to say, I can read again. I read myself to sleep at night once again instead of crying myself to sleep. I devour entire chapters, keep at least two books going at once (one fiction, one nonfiction), delight in revisiting old favorites and seeking out new authors and genres (YA fiction and steampunk) and topics.

Not everything I read is uplifting. At the moment I’m deep in Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Talents, a post-apocalyptic science fiction dystopia that is eerily prescient for a book published in 1998. But I can tell when it’s getting too deep and frightening and switch off to Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next literary fantasy Lost in a Good Book before the strife and struggle can drag me down.

And I can tell you this: It’s better to be lost in a good book than lost in your own broken brain.

 

I Got Away Successfully!

Last week I mentioned that my husband and I were planning a day trip to Cuyahoga National Park to see Brandywine Falls. This was based on a sudden, nearly inexplicable urge to get out of the house, get some fresh air, and see nature, despite my aversion to exercise. Maybe I was a little manicky. Who knows?mesign

I’m happy to report that the trip was a success, as you can see from these pictures. The drive up was long and hot (so was the drive back), but that gave us plenty of time for conversation. We got lost a couple of times in the park area (it’s a big, oddly shaped park), but with a little help we found the right parking lot and even grabbed a space near the trailhead. As advertised, there was a boardwalk that led right to the falls, or at least to an overlook with a great view.

stairsThere were also 69 steps leading down to the falls, or, more to the point, 69 steps leading back up to the boardwalk and the overlook. I declined to attempt the stairs, but my husband did, and got some pretty good pictures. janfalls

Since it was Father’s Day, there were a number of families there, but not so many that the trail seemed like a line for the rides at DisneyWorld. The weather was ungodly hot – in the 90s as we were driving home – but the boardwalk was shady and there was a bit of a breeze.falls3

So, what did I learn from this little adventure? First, that travel, at least on a small scale, is possible for me. I liked it so well that I am looking forward to taking another such trip, though most likely when the weather is cooler.

I drove the whole way up and back and was not bothered by my fears of drivers in the other lanes or railings and concrete dividers being too close to our car. (This is a thing that used to happen, even when I was a passenger. Driving was out of the question back then.)

Second, that I could make this trip with only minimal panic. I did have a moment on the way home. We stopped to eat, and as I rummaged in my bag for my regular glasses, I couldn’t find them. I thought they were pretty likely to be in the car, though I had visions of the case lying on one of the benches along the boardwalk. I was even trying to figure out whom to call or write that might be in charge of lost and found.

However, I managed to suppress the feelings, read the menu with my sunglasses on (that actually may have been the hardest part), resist the urge to ask Dan to go out to the car and check, and get through the meal.

The glasses case proved to be in the car and I managed to avoid either panic or mini-meltdown. I call that success. I finished driving home, we fed the animals, and then collapsed. It was exhausting and exhilarating and adventurous and restorative, and most of all, proof that I could travel again, at least for a medium-short jaunt. Travel was one of my greatest joys and one of the things I’ve missed most since the bipolar stole so many parts of my life. I am delighted to be able to say that I am beginning to reclaim it.

All photos by Dan Reily

 

 

 

Out of the House – At Last

Brandywine Falls

Brandywine Falls

If everything goes according to plan (which we all know it never does), this post will be publishing itself while I am at or on my way to this scenic location, Brandywine Falls in Cuyahoga National Park.

I was attracted to this particular location when I read on the Internet that, in addition to access via a 1.75-mile hiking trail, the falls could also be reached using a wooden boardwalk from a nearby parking lot.

This easy access appeals to me because I have balance problems and sometimes use a cane, as well as because I seldom leave the house and have difficulty walking any distance. My husband encourages me to get out and walk, reminding me that exercise is good for depressive episodes, but just getting out of the house for doctors’ appointments and a few errands leaves me with no spoons for recreational walking. It’s a pretty dreary life, though there is a nice window in my study, through which I can see shrubs and trees, the occasional hummingbird or squirrel, or that stupid bird that sometimes flies straight into the glass and bonks itself silly.

There were actually tears in my eyes when I mentioned the expedition to Dan.

“What’s the matter?” he asked.

“Would you drive a long way with me to do something that requires very little time to do?”

“What do you want to do?”

“See this waterfall,” I said, pointing at the screen. I explained about the parking lot and the boardwalk.

“How far is it?”

“Near Cleveland. About three hours. Each way.”

It sounded ridiculous even as I said it. A six-hour drive to walk a very short distance and look at a waterfall.

“We could stop along the way to get something to eat. Or we could pack a picnic. You could bring your camera and take nature photos.”

I needn’t have worked so hard to make it sound attractive. Getting out of the house to go see something scenic and outdoors is something my husband has been longing for us to share.

Naturally, as soon as we agreed to go, my brain went into overdrive, doing my usual job of trying to anticipate everything. We would need to GoogleMap directions, of course. We would need some kind of waterproof bag with cold packs and bottles of water. Bandanas to moisten and wipe our sweaty brows (the temperature will likely be in the 80s and I don’t do well in heat). Bug spray. My cane and maybe a walking stick for him. At times like this, I tend to plan the Normandy Invasion.

This is a ridiculous idea/plan. After the last month and a half I’ve had, it’s a wonder that I’m not just crouched in a corner going beeble-beeble-beeble. But if it works, we may make the same drive in a few weeks to go to a horticultural center and canopy walk, if only so I can make the old, bad joke (You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think) and we can meet up with some Cleveland-area friends we haven’t seen in far too long.

So. Getting out. Exercise. Nature. Relaxation. Fresh air. No computer access. Potential socializing. I don’t know whether these things will have any actual positive effects, but I like to think that my therapist will be proud of me.

Never mind that there are plenty of places nearer – even locally – to walk short distances and see nature. Never mind that my therapist often recommends that I take baby steps. This is a baby step. For God’s sake, I used to be able to hike in the Adirondacks. To travel. To Europe. By myself.

I don’t know why I was able to do that then, but can’t now. Bipolar disorder didn’t strike me suddenly, after I had done all those things. Maybe back then I was better at functioning. Maybe life and bipolar had not yet overwhelmed my ability to cope. Maybe I was in remission (or whatever they call it). Maybe I was hypomanic. It’s a mystery to me.

But maybe, just maybe, I can take this baby step toward reclaiming some of the things that used to bring me pleasure. It’s about damn time.

 

 

The Pluses and Minuses of Highs and Lows

Low polygonal shape mountain background with clouds.

Bipolar disorder comes with highs and lows – mania and depression, for those who still call it manic-depressive illness. Bipolar 2 comes with plenty of depression (trust me on this), but mania that doesn’t reach the heights of regular mania. Hence the term “hypomania” – low mania. Like “hypoglycemia” – low blood sugar. (Actually, low blood sugar can affect the bipolar person’s – or anyone’s – moods, but that’s a story for another time.)

So. Mania. Mania comes with pluses – exuberance, euphoria, ambition, confidence, and other good feelings. It also comes with minuses – risk-taking behaviors that can ruin relationships, careers, finances, lives.

Hypomania, however, is usually not so extreme. Sometimes you don’t even realize that you have hypomania at all, because it comes out sideways, as anxiety. This is what happened to me, and is the reason it took me so long to get the proper diagnosis of bipolar type 2.

Recently I have been exploring the realm of hypomania, and I’m here to report that, similar to regular mania, hypomania has its attractions and its drawbacks. And they are intertwined.

On the plus side, I have more energy – more spoons to spend. I can go longer between naps. I have now gotten out of bed, dressed, and out of the house for three days in a row. I can concentrate longer on the books I’m reading and spend more time with my husband and do some actual paying work.

On the minus side, I pay for that energy. It’s like borrowing spoons – you can’t keep doing it. Sooner or later the spoons have to be replaced. Right before my most recent spurt of energy, I had a need for a nap that turned into a mega-nap – almost six hours. I woke up just in time to get ready for bed. Then I slept at least ten hours more – maybe 12. It’s impossible to schedule these things, but I have left tomorrow open just in case my body and brain decide that’s payback day for the three days of activity.

Another plus is that my creative juices are flowing. I’m working ahead on blog posts because I know at the end of the month I have a huge commitment that will keep me from writing something for that Sunday. I’ve also taken steps to spiff up my posts with visuals. And I’ve been thinking that I ought to write some fiction.

However, there’s a however. The last time I had a creative spurt I almost talked myself into starting two new blogs, for a total of four. I have plenty on my plate already, what with these blogs and paying work and trying to find an agent for my book and getting ready for a writer’s conference. This is no time to start a big new project that could easily devour my time and my ability to do the things I already need and want to do. But I do now have a computer file set aside for notes and ideas that flit through my busy brain. Call that file “Later.”

And let’s not forget anxiety. It’s hard to find the pluses there, except that anxiety, if properly harnessed, helps me prepare. I suppose it sounds better if I call it anticipation instead of anxiety. Anticipating my upcoming dental work spurred me into putting together the financing for it. Anticipating the writers’ workshop allows me to prep for all the details – wardrobe, business cards, directions, strategies to cope with exhaustion – that would make my nerves fray even more at the last minute.

I assume I needn’t discuss the minuses of anxiety. Let’s just say that for me, they include regrettable and appalling physical symptoms that no one wants to hear about.

Any way you look at it, the dental procedures are going to be a low and the workshop a high. I can already predict some of the difficulties that will accompany the workshop boost. It’s harder to think of pluses related to the dental work. Except that I really need it done, and with luck it will (eventually) improve my looks, my breath, my health, my pain level, and my self-esteem. At least that’s what I’m telling myself now.

Bipolar disorder is often compared to a seesaw (or teeter-totter, if you prefer) or a swing set or a roller coaster – for some reason, usually as a form of amusement that involves ups and downs. The amusement is debatable and fleeting. But the ups and downs are with us always. Better to learn to ride this beast rather than let it ride us.

The Teen in my Head

There is someone else living inside my brain.

I don’t have Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID, formerly called Multiple Personalities). I just have another me who pipes up from time to time. And, man, can she be annoying!

She’s 14 years old, and she doesn’t have a name. I don’t know when I acquired her, but I do know when she acts up.

She’s the one who frets when a friend doesn’t answer my IM. When he does, she squees, “He noticed me! He noticed me!” She’s the one who wants to buy ridiculous, useless – but amusing – things. She makes me eat that extra chocolate cookie, then frets about getting fat and pimply. She’s the one who is hooked on all the stupid clicky Internet games.

I’ve heard the theory that everyone has a mental age that they get stuck at. No matter how old they get, they always picture themselves at that age. Mine is somewhere between 28 and 34. So how did I end up with a 14-year-old?

My theory about her existence is that she is there to try to do what I never did when I was 14 – all the regular teen-age angst and frivolous stuff: mad crushes and pouting, self-obsession and discovering her sexuality, in-jokes with BFFs and trying out fingernail polish.

When I was actually 14, I did none of that. I was in a prolonged downward mood swing, made worse by puberty and the horrors of junior high school. I wrote depressing poetry and read French existentialists. If they had had hipsters back then, I suppose I would have been one.

When I feel her popping up in the back of my skull, most of the time I have to put her in a box and sit on the lid. It’s scary to let her take over. She’s rapid-cycling, impulsive, and worst of all, unmedicated. (I don’t know why my meds don’t affect her, but there you are, they don’t.)

Once in a while I let her out of the box. I let her enjoy some mad crushes (as long as she doesn’t do anything about them). I let her buy things that cost $20 or less. I let her talk me into fake fingernails (once!). I let her have some of the fun that I never had at that age.

The thing is, I don’t know if this is just a me thing, a female thing, or a bipolar thing.

I know I’m not completely alone in having a teen ride-along. I do know a man with DID who has an alter that is a teen girl. I could tell when she was out because she giggles a lot and buys junk food. A friend of mine who has suffered from depression also has a 14-year-old in her head. She has given her teen a name – Innie Me. Hers behaves a lot like mine.

I also don’t know whether having a teen living in my head is a good thing or a bad thing. It could be good, because it does give me access to the feelings and experiences I never had as an actual teen. My teen is better than I am at having fun.

On the other hand, I know it would be a bad thing if I let her have her way all the time. She needs that box and I need to sit on the lid. The trick is knowing when and how and for how long to let her out.

On an episode of Scrubs, one character remarks that no matter how old a woman gets, she always has an insecure 14-year-old inside her. I suppose that men have similar phenomena. Most people are said to have an inner child (although I think they are usually younger than 14). I think my husband’s inner child is usually about seven.

Certainly my teen is insecure. There’s no question about that. But she’s also enthusiastic, engaged, and energetic, as well as moody, dramatic, and confused. I think she may be related to the hypomanic part of myself, although I’m also sure some of my fits of apparently reasonless weeping have been her acting up.

My therapist knows about my 14-year-old. We have discussed her and her behavior and her moods several times. Dr. B. has never expressed surprise or shock or puzzlement at the idea. She does think it’s good that I’m learning to sit on the box lid when I need to. We’ve talked less about when it’s a good time to let her out. That’s something I still need to work on.

I guess I’ll have to learn to live with my 14-year-old, because I don’t think she’s going away anytime soon. And I don’t think I really want her to.

 

 

 

 

 

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