Waiting

I had to drive to another location for work yesterday. I got to one point, and there was some road work. The lanes going to the place I needed to reach flowed smoothly, but I noticed the other side of the highway was backed up a very long distance. There was a long line of cars going in the direction I was coming from. I decided that on my return, I would take an alternate route.

I reached my destination and accomplished my task. After the day was done, I began the return trek. I quickly went to the new route and sailed along at a high rate of speed. It was a beautiful drive. There were green mountains and blue skies overhead. It was lovely.

I came around a bend on the freeway to spy cars ahead of me with their brake lights gleaming. There were many cars. I began to slow and tapped my brakes numerous times to alert the drivers behind me of the approaching slowdown.

I reached the cars and stopped. I stayed stopped. I began to wonder what was causing the freeway to be at a dead stop and imagined there was a wreck somewhere ahead.

This is the 21st century, and I had a smartphone equipped with traffic information. While we were stopped, I checked traffic. The map was a mass of red lines where the roads were, meaning the traffic was greatly congested, but there was no information as to the cause.

We continued to stay stopped. And continued. And continued.

I finally rolled down my windows and shut off the engine.

This is going to sound odd, but I wasn’t bothered by it. It’s traffic. I can’t do anything about it, so why let it upset me? The breeze blew through the car, and I listened to the engines of the other cars. I played my radio a bit. My favorite NPR station was having a fund drive asking for donations. I switched the radio off and sat listening to the ambient sounds around me. It didn’t really bother me.

After more than 20 minutes, the cars began to move. We very quickly got up to highway speed, and I got home just fine. I warmed up some curry and rice for dinner.

My mood this morning is nothing like my aplomb in the midst of being at a dead stop on the freeway. I’m quite agitated at my situation, and I’m wailing loudly to the heavens, shaking my fist, demanding attention.

I take a deep breath as I write that. How do I transfer the patience I have in traffic to another part of my life? It makes me smile.

Here I am faced with another instance of something I cannot control, but I have the opposite reaction. In traffic, I’m a saint. In this situation, I’m a toddler.

I need a good walk.

Healing Demons

I have now seen a meme twice. A meme is a viral phenomenon that spreads an idea from person to person in a given population. It’s also the slang term used to describe a trite saying usually accompanied by a picture on the internet.

This particular meme says, “We never lose our demons. We only learn to live above them.”

I can happily report that we can heal them. We do not have to simply learn to tolerate their rude behavior as they live downstairs. It is possible to completely heal them, releasing ourselves from their power. Why can I say this? Because I healed mine.

It’s popular to talk about our baggage, the stuff we carry with us from the past that weighs us down. Baggage is something we talk about with a therapist. In the early days of going to AA, I heard a lot about baggage, and I realized that I don’t simply have baggage. I had a freight train.

Indeed I did. I had so much junk attached to myself on many different subjects: homosexuality, religion, being an American male from the South, parental expectations, etc. The list is very long.

I started therapy when I was 23. The first big item I tackled was anger. It may surprise you to learn that I actually had to teach myself how to be angry. I remember it quite well. I had to keep a small notepad in my pocket and write down every time I felt angry. It took many months before I was able to recognize my real anger. I suppressed it before. I didn’t know that I was allowed to be angry. It was an enormously unhealthy way to live.

I haven’t thought about that episode in my attempts to unpack my freight train in a very long time. My anger is healthy now. I feel it. If necessary, I act on it. I let it pass. It flows like it’s supposed to.

That is a perfect example of healing a demon, and that’s what bugs me about that meme. Saying that the best we can hope for is to merely live above them does us all a disservice. We can indeed heal them. We can completely disarm them and free ourselves from their grip.

I have healed many demons. I don’t live above anything unpleasant.

I am free!

I am very happy to be a gay man now, but I used to loathe myself. I healed the loathing. I did the necessary self-care that led to a very happy realization that I like being gay. I live completely out now. It was a difficult journey fraught with upset, but I did it. I did it!

I am free!

If you think you have pain that can only be tolerated and never healed, you are wrong. If I can heal the trauma of growing up gay in a time and place that abhorred it, you can heal, too. You can. I promise.

The question becomes how to start. Therapy worked for me. I know that it works for a great many people, because they’ve told me it works. It’s also important to do some work on our own.

Meditation is an amazing habit to form. It teaches us to find our calm center. We each have one. Most of us need help to find it. Meditation doesn’t have to be scary. Sit quietly doing nothing. Don’t sit and rock. Don’t sit and drink water. Sit. Just sit. Let your mind wander, and look for the spaces between the wandering thoughts. Try to enlarge those spaces in between. Don’t judge yourself as your mind wanders. Just watch it.

Exercise is important for me, too. I powerwalk. It’s something I enjoy, and it only requires good shoes. It doesn’t take any other special equipment. Think about what you enjoy, and do it.

There are many ways we each can begin the journey of healing. What do you want to look like after you have healed? Think about it, and think about the ways you want to get to that place. Find the help you need, and use it.

You can be free, too. I promise.

Emotional Sponge

A dear friend called me this morning quite angry about a situation. I was taken aback by her words. She was not angry at me but at a person we both know, and she was fuming.

I first tried to understand her anger, and I’m still unclear about the origins of her outburst today. What was immediately clear to me was my own anxiety. Her words caused my stomach to churn and my mind to fog.

Next, I stated my perception of the events in order to diffuse her temper and offered solutions we could both pursue to work through the matter at hand. It had the desired effect; she calmed down. We agreed on a course of action, and we are starting it today.

Is the problem solved? Yes.

Am I feeling better? No.

My stomach is just beginning to settle two hours after the phone call. My friend’s anger infiltrated me and has not dissipated. Frankly, I’m a mess. I’m not the type to cry or act out in other ways when I’m emotionally upset. I bottle it up inside. It’s unhealthy, but I’m much better at displaying my emotions today than I was ten years ago.

I also have an unhealthy habit of incorporating the emotions of people around me. Others’ little anxieties can become monumental to me. It’s awful really, and I don’t know how to stop.

I recognize where my responsibilities are and what I can control. However, that realization does not negate this emotional turmoil seeping into my pores and mind. I am using calming techniques I learned at the job training I recently completed. I’m breathing slowly and deeply. I’ve distracted my mind by following up on the ideas my angry friend and I decided on. I’m writing here. I am carrying on with my day.

Still, I feel like I’ve been hit in the stomach. This incident will be something to discuss with my therapist.

I Braved the Movie Theater

I have written in this blog about not being able to watch television for unknown reasons. It makes my brain twitch uncomfortably. I have avoided movies for the same reason. My brain throws a switch that makes my skull itchy inside. (You can find the blog entries by typing “I can’t watch TV” in the little search window on the right.) The crowds in movie theaters are also a deterrent.

I have seen three movies in the last month. It’s been amazing. I had to practice some deep breathing at points during each one, but I made it through. Last night was the most difficult. I saw Silver Linings Playbook, a movie about a bipolar man and his budding relationship with a troubled woman.

The movie begins with words on the screen announcing the upcoming scene as taking place in a psychiatric hospital. I tensed instantly. A group therapy circle unfolded on the screen with someone speaking gibberish about his hair. Another patient sat in his chair but had physical tics. The lead actor was composed but spouting loudly about finding good things in bad circumstances.

The movie twists and turns through the life of the lead actor. He moves back to his parents’ house, and immediately begins to obsess about his estranged wife. He meets an interesting, troubled woman, and they begin seeing each other. Their relationship revolves around his learning to dance. There are scenes finding the man up all night pouring through books only to toss them through a closed window into the street. He wakes his parents at odd hours to rant about wild things. He jogs a lot. The pair spark off each other, though their relationship remains platonic since the man insists he’s still married.

Some points of the movie were particularly wrenching for me to watch. When the lead actor maniacally reads, I was reminded of myself engrossed in books all day long. A crowd encircles the man at one point, and I found my heart pounding in real fear. I have been in the middle of crowded department stores and had to leave to breathe. He went on a painful, angry hunt for his wedding video, and I understood the drive, the single-minded mania. I have been in the situation where I had to accomplish a minor task at all costs and was thwarted.

There was quite a bit of violence in the movie. I’m very lucky that I’m not given to violent outbursts. I withdraw inwardly and use a great deal of negative self-talk.

The movie talked a lot about medication, and the lead character refused to take any. Some of his more egregious explosions prompted him to take medication, but the subject was treated poorly. Regular readers here know I am a strong advocate for taking medication to treat bipolar illness. I only speak for myself, but there’s no amount of prayer or meditation, no distance of running or walking, nor any length of talk-therapy or doctor visits that can control the hallucinations, the rapid thinking, or the burning brain. I need medicine. It’s plain and simple.

The movie ended happily. The boy got the girl. There was no hint of disability. All was right with the world, and I call, “Bullshit.” I’ve been manic about love in the past. If a relationship would fix me, I would be on every dating site around. People can’t fix me. If a relationship could fix the lead character in the movie, then why couldn’t his loving parents help?

Bipolar illness is tricky. I appreciate this cinematic portrayal. I intend to get the book and see if it may be different. I wish my happy ending would be so simple. I’d pay $10 for that.

Mania 3

Sigh.

Here I sit at my computer in the middle of the night when I should be sleeping.

My mind is racing.

Everything I touch is magical, and colors have meaning.

The tapping of the typing speaks to me in secret code.

I’ve been pacing through the rooms of my very small house.

I’ve overeaten.

I sat in front of the TV long enough to run from the lowest channels to the highest.

And then I paced some more.

I’ve taken my medication.

I should be sleepy.

I’m groggy, but I feel agitated.

If you go to the right side of this blog and click the word “mania” in the tag cloud, you’ll find a lot of entries about this subject.

I want to sing. Shout. Dance. But not in a healthy way. I want to flail and thrash.

I had a change in my medication recently. I’ll be calling my psychiatric prescribing nurse practitioner in the morning to ask if it could trigger mania.

I know a lot of people with bipolar disorder who actually look forward to this high, but for me, it’s devastating. I spend money I don’t have. I act out sexually in unhealthy ways. I have delusions. I talk to trees.

I’m angry and anxious.

I feel vulnerable.

I feel sick.

Being Bipolar and Being Angry

Anger is a normal human emotion. Everyone feels it at one time or another. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, educated or not, healthy or not. It’s a common experience. Events occur in our lives that evoke emotion. At times, that emotion is anger. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being angry. I believe it’s what we do with that emotion that might cause one to label it right or wrong.

I recently had occasion to be angry at another adult during a community event. The adult did something I found outrageously offensive to another person close to me. I voiced my opinion, and it escalated. There was never a threat of things turning physically abusive, but verbal taunts were used. The situation continued for some time, and they finally settled down enough for all to disperse.

The result was that the other adult was relieved of her responsibilities in the community event. However, in an effort to remain open to healing, the organizers asked that we be willing to meet for mediation after the event concluded.

The day following the verbal assault, I was shaken.

And then the poor sleep patterns started. I would go to bed at a reasonable hour but wake up only 3 or 4 hours later to memories of vivid dreams. I wrote those dreams in a journal I keep next to the bed given to me by my therapist. The poor sleep continued for a couple of weeks.

There were many images, but it wasn’t until I was discussing them in a session that I made the connection. The common trait was anger. I had repressed my experience, and it was looking for a way out. This can’t be unique to people with bipolar disorder. Repressing emotions is an unhealthy way of dealing with unpleasant feelings, and quite probably all people experience it at one time or another.

As I’ve written in other places on this site, I grew up in a household where only one emotion was tolerated: joy. If I wasn’t overtly happy, my feelings weren’t to be voiced. Everything but elation was squashed. I learned early to suppress unpleasant emotions. When I began therapy at age 23, I actually had to read a book and follow instructions to learn to express emotions.

Readers of this site will also know I’m a recovered alcoholic. I drowned my negative emotions for many years in gallons of gin.

My erratic sleep pattern set off alarms in my head. Something was amiss. It was in therapy that I had to face the ugly demon of repressed emotions yet again. The difference this time was my acceptance of my part in repressing the emotions.

I will be meeting for mediation on the matter that began all this sometime this month. I’m willing to own my part in the affair. I want to work past it.

Do people with bipolar disorder have a different experience with anger than others? I don’t believe so. Do we express it properly? Do others? Who knows? All humans get angry. It’s up to us individually to grow past it and move on.

I Suffer from Bipolar Disorder Type 1

This is what the Mayo Clinic has to say about bipolar 1:

Bipolar 1 disorder. Mood swings with bipolar 1 cause significant difficulty in your job, school or relationships. Manic episodes can be severe and dangerous.

On their website, the Mayo Clinic lists the following symptoms for a manic phase of bipolar disorder:

  • Euphoria
  • Inflated self-esteem
  • Poor judgment
  • Rapid speech
  • Racing thoughts
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Agitation or irritation
  • Increased physical activity
  • Risky behavior
  • Spending sprees or unwise financial choices
  • Increased drive to perform or achieve goals
  • Increased sex drive
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Easily distracted
  • Careless or dangerous use of drugs or alcohol
  • Frequent absences from work or school
  • Delusions or a break from reality (psychosis)
  • Poor performance at work or school

For depressive episodes, they list the following:

  • Sadness
  • Hopelessness
  • Suicidal thoughts or behavior
  • Anxiety
  • Guilt
  • Sleep problems
  • Low appetite or increased appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of interest in activities once considered enjoyable
  • Problems concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Chronic pain without a known cause
  • Frequent absences from work or school
  • Poor performance at work or school

Another sign of the disorder is

  • Psychosis. Severe episodes of either mania or depression may result in psychosis, a detachment from reality. Symptoms of psychosis may include false but strongly held beliefs (delusions) and hearing or seeing things that aren’t there (hallucinations).

I have all these symptoms at one time or another. Thankfully, they don’t come all at once, but they do come. My doctors tell me at times I am psychotic. In other words, I have a break with reality.

In other places on this blog, I have gone into great detail about my personal struggle with this disease. Please, explore and read. The disease is real and devastating. I live on disability payments from the government. The process to receive that distinction is long and arduous often requiring two or three attempts. I won on the first try. Even the government noted the severity of my case.

This blog is my safe place. I will not defend myself here. All comments in which my status or my experience are belittled will continue to be deleted. If you think mental illness is not real, go somewhere else. Leave this blog.

This blog is also meant to be a resource of others with mental illness. I want them to know they are not alone. Others experience the horrors of delusions. I once thought I could cure AIDS with eight apples and a plastic water bottle. I only had to breathe on the apples and write magic words on the bottle, and a person with terminal AIDS would be cured. It took six months of concerted effort to convince myself that delusion was false.

I have hallucinations. I hear voices that are not there, telling me secrets or just speaking gibberish. I have seen people who were not present.

The euphoria of mania is luscious. I am invincible at those times. I have a cracked tooth from trying to walk through a wall; another delusion.

The rapid speech baffles those around me.

The racing thoughts are scary. My mind careens out of control and often the only thought I can cling to is death.

My risky behavior has put me in places where I could lose my physical health, my freedom, and my home.

The depression is akin to being a the bottom of a black pit so deep that not even a pinprick of light shines through. I have sat on the side of the tub with a utility knife ready to commit suicide and was saved only by the chance ringing of the phone. I have been hospitalized twice for suicide attempts.

I have experienced everything in the list for depression.

It is demeaning that I am having to defend myself on this blog. Walk in my shoes. Spend a minute inside my head. If you can stand the horror, then I will count myself less a person.

I feel alone.