Overbearing Emotions

It’s a sad day for many. A massacre occurred at an elementary school in Connecticut in the U.S. Many small children lost their lives, and many brave adults did, too. As soon as I heard, I shut off the news on my computer and limited my intake. I am sensitive to these tragedies, and they have a way of needling into my thoughts and taking center stage.

Despite the measures, I wept for a long while and felt anguish and helplessness. My mind returned again and again to the unbearable loss.

Thankfully, I had an appointment scheduled with my psychiatric nurse practitioner, so I knew I would have an opportunity to discuss my emotions regarding the horrifying news. I arrived early and asked if she’d heard the story. She had.

***

I don’t trust my emotions. I’m unable at times to distinguish how I feel, if anything at all. I’m fighting back tears as I write this, and I don’t know what the tears are for or why I’m fighting.

***

The nurse informed me that people with a mental illness like mine will often repress emotions. “Little incidents,” she said, “that I wouldn’t even spend a split second thinking about become mountainous obstacles in the lives of my bipolar, depressed, and schizophrenic patients.” Due to this, we often shut emotions off only to have them resurface in odd ways.

I found myself pacing my little house several days this past week. On several occasions, I wandered back and forth along a worn path from room to room. When it dawned on me I was walking aimlessly, I didn’t stop. I tried to remember what my thoughts were while pacing, but it was no good. The thoughts had vanished. My memory was faulty. The nurse informed me this was a classic example of repression.

My sleep has been troubled, too. I wake after a few hours and then can’t get back to sleep until several more hours pass.

And there are the dreams. One I call “The Actor’s Nightmare,” in which I find myself on a bare stage where someone is just about to raise the curtain. I don’t know my lines. There is no set. I’m wearing no costume. There are no props or even other performers. No one else is backstage with me, but I can hear people in front of the curtain talking to the audience announcing the beginning of the show. I can’t get their attention to tell them about the emptiness they’re about to expose the audience to. I find a kind of bag full of papers that I begin to fling about so that I can take the empty bag on as a prop.

Emptiness. Lack of control.

There’s the dream of which I only remember the ending. I have lit a cigarette lighter, and I’m inhaling the flame to burn away the rotten parts of me. My lungs are engulfed by the blaze. I have a desperate need to burn what is unworthy.

Self-loathing.

I saw my therapist yesterday, and we discussed the dreams. We talked more about the sexual healing I’ve been working on. She mentioned love.

“How far back do you have to go to an age when you know you were loved?”

“The cradle,” I replied.

She displayed no surprise, but I was. My answer was quick and certain, so we spent time imagining caring for a “baby me.” I held the baby close. I cooed to him. I rocked him. I cuddled him.

We went through the steps of changing a messy diaper, and I got to express love in all circumstances with a baby’s needs.

***

Healing is slow.

***

I cried today for the lost children in Connecticut. My heart aches now for them, but then my heart aches much of the time. I sent out a prayer to whatever it was that set this universe whirling, asking for healing and solace for their families and me.

Getting Help and Preventing Suicide

Please, let me reassure regular readers I am not suicidal.

As it states in the tiny “about” paragraph on this blog, I am merely here to share my experience, strength, and hope as it relates to living with bipolar disorder.

That being said, readers can search here and find times when I have been suicidal, and there were times before I started this blog when I was suicidal and others I have not written about.

I am writing this today to share some resources that helped me in crisis. There may be readers who are searching for help.

First, there is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline you can call in the US at 800-273-8255. If you search the Internet, your country may have a similar phone assistance program.

Second, there is a little website I stumbled across that helped me: metanoia.org There is an excellent line on that site:

“Suicide is not chosen; it happens when pain exceeds resources for coping with pain.”

I was jolted into remembering my first time to visit the metanoia.org site. I was deeply depressed. All around me was black. I felt like I was in the bottom of a pit so deep and dark that no light shone in. No light. There was not the tiniest glimmer. All I could feel was pain. All I wanted was for it to stop.

Depression is a disease. It is recognized by doctors as such. It is not a moral failing of the sufferer, although that is just how many people internalize their experience with it and how many of those around judge them.

Through many struggling years and patient family, friends, and caregivers, I reached a point where I began to think about helping others. I will start job training in the new year for that, and I’m anxiously awaiting it.

This blog has been both a form of expression for me and a way to reach out to others hurting, too.

I can honestly say that I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had many excellent psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, nurses, therapists, and caseworkers over the years.

One thing has stood out for me. I have used them. When I was in crisis, I sought out help, and it was given to me amply.

If you are in crisis, reach out. Extend your hand. Help can be found.

Life Changes

I recently celebrated a milestone and have had some time to think about my life before and after.

Before sobriety, diagnosis, and treatment:

• I dreamt of suicide and thought of it daily.

• I had self-loathing down to a tee. I’m gay, and I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian household, which taught me deep hatred.

• My relationships were not longstanding. I had fiery, quick friendships that lasted as long as the interest was fresh whether it was physical or about some mutual subject.

• I quit two high-paying jobs that had real potential to take me to greater heights of accomplishment and high status.

• I used money foolishly to attract people.

• I abused alcohol passionately.

After sobriety, diagnosis, and treatment:

• I just celebrated 13 years of sobriety. I have learned in that time to find peace and serenity by living day-to-day and concentrating on the present.

• I live frugally on disability and am quite happy with it. The money I have is little, and I don’t begrudge my desires for small luxuries like ice cream or a new shirt off eBay.

• While I don’t presently work because of my disability, I serve on the board of directors of a small theater group and am intimately active in it. I act, direct, and manage productions. I am a stalwart member of the group.

• I have great relationships with my children from my marriage that I thought would make me straight. I even have a really good relationship with my ex-wife. I have true friends I can turn to in times of need.

• I no longer hate my homosexuality. I embrace it. I’m fabulous. I am a proud, out gay man, and I take part in activities that support equality in my community and my country.

• I don’t have suicidal ideation today. I was hospitalized for it recently, and that was during a mixed episode of severe mania. I went to the hospital voluntarily to stabilize my medications.

I am lucky. I have never doubted my mental illness. When I was diagnosed in 2001, it was something of a relief to me. I finally had a name for the pain that I was feeling, and I knew there was treatment for it. I began to take the medication right away and have never faltered.

I also believe wholeheartedly in talk therapy. I’ve been seeing the same therapist since 1997. She knows me inside and out and can quickly point out where I need work. She makes me do the work, too. She sugarcoats nothing.

My life continues to improve day by day. I’m happy to be here today, and regular readers of this blog know that’s another milestone.

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.

A cousin’s death

My cousin died in a terrible car wreck today. More than likely, he’d been drinking. It’s very sad. The drinking and the death. He was not yet 50.

My mother said at the end of our conversation that she hoped her sister, my aunt, would take this opportunity to lay down the burden that her son was.

She actually said that.

I have a feeling that’s what I am to my mother. I’m a burden to be endured not a son to be loved.

Ending the death wish

It’s impossible to say when it began, but I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be dead. I called it different things at different times: not wanting to be here, wanting to disappear, wanting to be invisible, wanting to fly far away, and simply a death wish. There are many reasons for this desire for self-destruction. Chief among them is being gay.

Growing up in a rabidly fundamentalist, evangelical Christian family, I had to endure hours of church each week. Many of the sermons centered around sin and how unworthy we all were, and that we were all hell bound just for being born. Being alive meant that we were doomed to an eternity of damnation and pain.

There was a special place in hell reserved for homosexuals, and it was the worst possible spot. Life for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered individuals was rife with torment, and there was to be no respite in the afterlife. We were subhuman and deserving of ridicule and hate. Why should anyone be nice to us? We’re a plague on society’s morals, after all. We should simply kill ourselves and go to the hell where we belong.

I grew up thinking that. The self-loathing instilled in me is deep. It wants to harm me, and it makes me miserable.

I have recently gone through a period of dangerous, self-destructive behavior, and the simple explanation is that I want to be dead. When I look that desire in the face, I see a self-hatred that wants not just to die but also to suffer and waste away.

I am angry at myself for feeling this way. I am angry at the preachers I grew up hearing who railed against the sin of homosexuality. I am angry at a society that relegates me to second-class status.

I am angry at my parents who told me that I would be cast out of the house if I was gay.

I am sick and tired of wanting to die. I am done with believing that I deserve to suffer and die. I reject the self-hate implanted in me when I was too young to know any better.

As I’ve written before, I’m a recovered alcoholic, and I chose to work the 12 steps on this problem. I recognized it to begin with. I talked to another alcoholic about it and recognized my part in my self-destructive behavior. What may be most important, I got on my knees, told my higher power I was entirely willing to be free of my death wish, and asked for it to be removed.

I don’t know if it’s gone completely, but I have felt calmer the past several days after doing that. I have not engaged in risky behavior, and I don’t have immediate plans to do it again. Only time will tell if there has been a real change.

I’m simply tired of wanting to die. I’ve known for a long time that I have to rid myself of this torture. I want to live. I want to breathe. I want to eat. I want to play. I want to lose myself in the pages of a good book. I want to feel the ocean on my skin. I want to know what it feels like to love myself.

Fright

Last Saturday evening, I found myself pacing in my room. Next, my thoughts were racing, careening out of control. They were dominated by doom and gloom and worst-case scenarios, all flashing before my eyes. “Would this person be okay in their present predicament? Would that person die unexpectedly?” Then the uncontrollable crying started along with the thoughts that I have worked so hard to get rid of. The negative self-talk. The self-loathing. The hatred directed at me.

My heart raced. My breathing was shallow and ineffective.

All this angst culminated in a certainty that I was simply going completely insane, and thoughts of suicide were present. I wondered if I could drive myself to the emergency room at the hospital. Would I be okay behind the wheel of a car at that point? I was sure I was losing my mind.

“A panic attack” flashed across my mind. “I’m having a panic attack.” While this thought didn’t calm me, it gave me something to hold on to. It also gave me a way out. I knew what to do. I did a very quick guided visualization exercise that I use as meditation and gained a moment of quiet, which I used to walk to the bathroom for the medicine my doctor has given me for just such emergencies. I took one and went back to my room to wait.

I told my therapist about it today, and she was quite dismayed to hear the news. She said something I hadn’t thought of. She said, “You’re having to work too hard to feel good.” Having someone I trust explicitly means so much. Relief washed over me with those words. Someone else saw my hurt and acknowledged it. I didn’t feel judged or wrong in any way. I’m so lucky to have people in my life I can turn to at times like these.

I see my psychiatrist tomorrow, and I will tell him about the incident as well. Keeping all my caregivers up-to-date with all my symptoms is an important part of staying as healthy as I possibly can.