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.

Losses

I’ve had a series of losses over the last two months that have caused me varying degrees of distress. One of my uncles died. We weren’t close in the last decade or two, but as a child, he was a stalwart, kind figure in my life. He was there on fishing, camping, and hunting trips. He is the first of a generation in my family to pass, and so it is filled with special meaning, i.e., that my parents generation are getting old.

A week later, a dear friend of mine died quite unexpectedly. She was a pillar in the local theater community I’m a part of. Her brother came a great distance to see to things, but he was at a loss as to what to do for many of the arrangements. I stepped in and helped by finding a place for the memorial service and by getting some folks together to help with the unenviable task of beginning to sift through her belongings. She stored many of our theater company’s articles at her house, and those had to be removed.

In helping with her house, we discovered a secret world. She was a hoarder, and the house was beyond filthy. In her public life, this friend displayed a degree of verve and vitality. In private, she must have been beset by demons I can only imagine.

In another loss, the summer Shakespeare in the Park was riddled with backstage drama of the worst sort, and it found its way on stage in a most unfortunate way. One of the actors took it upon himself to show his displeasure with some of the shenanigans by sabotaging a scene in a performance. He was fired in the middle of the run. The rest of the run was spent finding replacements for him for certain nights who were willing to walk on stage, script in hand, and play the part.

The friend who died was to have directed a small play I had a role in. An accomplished theater professional volunteered to take her place, but then one of the actors from the three-man show backed out. We found a suitable replacement for him, but then there were problems with rehearsal time at the venue. In a pique of temper, one of the actors had an argument with the new director. It was all too much for the new actor who begged that we postpone, and in the end, we simply cancelled the play.

All of this was topped off by my walking into a door frame, jarring my jaw and causing me to bite down hard on a front tooth. It’s still sore, and I have a real fear that I’ve done permanent damage to it.

Two deaths, two plays gone bad, and tooth trouble made for a summer not to repeat. I made it through with my sanity intact mainly because of medication and talking openly with my psychiatrist, case worker, and therapist. It’s impossible to say how I would have managed had I not had people in my life I could readily turn to for help. They were there for me in times of trouble.

Burning

I vividly remember the dream. I walked slowly into a forest at night. Dark shadows filled every nook and cranny. No moonlight pierced the canopy of trees.

Trees stood around me. They were old and lonesome, and they beckoned to me to approach. When I did, I realized that each tree was open, baring it’s interior for me to spy.

I approached one to pry into its secret life inside only to discover that it glowed with a raging fire. Smokeless. Hidden. Its soft life was being consumed by a fire burning from the inside out.

The next tree held the same secret fire eating away its life. The fire glowed, and bits of ash formed and fell, and the shell of life thinned.

And the next tree revealed the same.

And the next.

Until I was left looking at my own hands that glowed with the same internal fire. My skin blackened and turned to ash and flaked away. My flesh being consumed from the inside by a mad fire daring to escape.

Life in Hell

I lived in hell for too many years to count. All right, it was somewhere between 16 to 18 years. The hell centered around alcohol, preferably gin. I might start the evening with beer or wine, but it was gin–Bombay Gin–that I poured for myself over and over. I kept it in the refrigerator so that I never needed to add ice, which just took up room in the glass that could be better occupied by gin.

I drank for one simple reason: to numb the pain. It never worked. Not once. The alcohol would warm my blood and muddle my brain, but I was still miserable even drunk. I still loathed my self, my homosexuality, my mediocrity, my looks, my job, my lying, my relationships. Everything.

And I woke up every morning for years wanting to die. The first thought that would enter my head before I opened my eyes would be that I wished to be dead. I don’t know how many years it lasted, but it was easily decades. I hated myself. I hated you. I hated the world. Everything.

And I wanted to be dead. I have a vivid memory of lying on my bed one day with the usual thoughts of death rolling around in my head. Suddenly, I had an incredible flash of inspiration of just what it’s like to be dead. I was in a coffin. I pictured my body mouldering and decaying and wasting away. The skin was stretched tight across my bones. I was rigid and putrefying. Mostly, I was aware that there was no air. The image is still real for me many years later though it took only a second to see it all.

Some time in that last 10 years of my drinking, I grew aware that there was a sound underneath all my thoughts. It was a crying, a low heaving as happens when you gasp for air as you cry continuously. The sound was present always. I could be in the middle of a conversation or reading or at the movies, and it would creep into my forethought. Crying.

Gin never stopped it. In fact, gin exacerbated it. When I was drunk, the crying was at the forefront of my brain. It was scratching at the inside of my skull trying to get out.

There came a time when the crying grew to sobbing, and I tried pouring more gin on top of it to shut it up. It sobbed, because I was gay and doomed to die and go to hell. It sobbed, because, knowing that, I got married, hoping to cure my sexuality and save myself from hell. There was sobbing in my brain for the children I fathered who would never have the right kind of dad. The sobbing was with me at all times and in all places.

There was no escape, and the beer and wine and gin and whiskey never gave me freedom from it nor the death I dreamed of. The alcohol just gave me more misery.

I can still remember the day the sobbing changed. I was driving, and I realized that there was a screaming inside my head. There were no more tears. There was gut wrenching anguish, and the only way my body knew to deal with it was to scream. There were no words to describe my fear at the change. There were only more bottles to try to alleviate it.

My self-loathing grew exponentially, and my alcohol consumption grew, too. Until, the scream became a howling, and when that was not enough, the howling became the wail of the banshee.

Nothing worked. I drunkenly threw myself at my wife for sexual satisfaction while fantasizing about men. I tried harder at work to succeed only to fail at an attempted promotion. I played at being dad when it didn’t interfere with my drinking.

The drinking was daily. I drank the cooking wine once when we ran out of other stuff. I did run out one night and got to the store too late. I still remember the look of pity on the cashier’s face as she told me they were closed.

On May 1, 1999, I drank everything in the house. That was an entire bottle of tequila. I hated the stuff, but it’s all there was in the house. There was 3/4 of an opened 2 liter bottle of wine, and there was a 12 pack of beer. I drank it all.

I remember like it was yesterday going to the refrigerator to get more beer and finding it all gone. There was none left. I’d drunk everything alcoholic in the house, so I went to bed.

The next morning was the usual hell of a hangover. I opened the refrigerator while I was waiting for the coffee to brew, and there staring at me from the top shelf were two beers.

Two beers.

The picture of the empty fridge flashed across my mind, and then it hit me. I’d been so drunk the night before that I hadn’t even been able to see booze. I knew in that same instant that I was going to die, if something didn’t change. In the next instant, I knew that I was going to make sure I died, if something didn’t change.

That was the morning of May 2, 1999, and I haven’t had a drink since. Instead, I found A.A.

More of that journey later.