Shout It from the Mountaintops!

I sit right now in front of a blank screen on my computer, and my fingers refuse to move. My brain sputters. I have false starts. Ideas flit to the surface and recede. Through it all rides exuberance. I giggle.

Stunning.

Exhilarating.

Rapturous.

In about a week’s time, this blog will be three years old. However, that’s not the cause for celebration. While it’s a worthy milestone, I’m excited for another reason.

You see, I’m drawing a blank.

I’m stumped.

There’s nothing there!

That’s right. Nothing!

Sh! You can’t hear it? If you stop up your ears and shut your eyes, what do you hear? When you have a brain without mental illness, you hear nothing or your heart beating or maybe loud noises from passing traffic in the street outside your window gets through your fingers in your ears. I think you understand what I mean. There are everyday sounds, natural ones.

To people with mental illness, a quiet mind is often unattainable. Indeed, a book that is a pillar in the field of mental illness is called An Unquiet Mind by Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison. I highly recommend it.

Quiet.

That’s what I’m up against today, and it’s glorious!

In the first days of this blog, I wrote my “Thoughts in Hell“. I had horrific thought patterns, which I had faced for many years, too many years. In more recent years, I’ve battled other burdensome thoughts. I’ve experienced visual and aural hallucinations, which are controlled by medication.

Mostly, I’ve dealt with negative self-talk. This voice was not small. It was big and ever present. When I wasn’t wholly engaged in an activity, the voice would pipe in and say, “You’re worthless.” Any spare moment was opportunity for it to deride me with hateful sayings like “ugly, fat, and bald.”

Today, it’s gone. Vanished. I’m clearheaded.

What’s most surprising to me is how quickly it seems to have left. It was not present while I was at the job training, because I was too busy. Normally, it would rear its ugly head and shout something at me even in those times when I was in my room alone or ambling the hallways, but this time it was quiet.

I’ve been home more than a week, and it’s roared at me a couple of times. Really, it’s been maybe three times, and each of those times, I’ve looked at myself in the mirror and thought, “Really?! Nah! I’m okay. I’m good and getting even better.”

Why? Why did this change happen so suddenly? I honestly have to give the credit to our training. The Wellness Recovery Action Plan or WRAP by Dr. Mary Ellen Copeland has turned my thinking on its head. I came home from the job training and began putting my Wellness Toolbox together. I’ve got a 3-ring binder with some lists and important information. There’s a list of my attributes when I’m well that I can look at when I’m not well. I put in pictures of my children and a favorite picture of me acting in a play. I’ve got a pen to remind me that I like to write and that I’m good at it. There’s a small stuffed animal that I can hold and cuddle when I’m feeling blue. In the next week, I’ll be gathering the last of the items for my Wellness Toolbox. I’m going to put in a funny book since I love to read, a deck of cards, and some candy wrappers because I like chocolate. On the front of my 3-ring binder, I put a print of a big rainbow flag, the international symbol of gay pride. I’m out and proud to be gay.

Friends, my head is clear! Shout it from the mountaintops!

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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.

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.

Whee!

I’m a little bit manic. How are you? Fine, you say. Good. I’m glad to hear it. I’m going to win the lottery today. Yes, I am. I’ll start by buying a house with enormous closets to fill with beautiful clothes. I think I’ll eat another cinnamon roll. Ooo! I’ll go to the French bakery in town and buy their fresh croissants. I’ll eat those smeared with real butter and the most expensive strawberry jam I can find in town. It’s time to drive to the top of a mountain and do a dance. I’ll bring down the rain. Yes, I’ll do a rain dance, and then I’ll take off my clothes and dance in the rain. I’ll race down the mountain burning up my brakes and buy a new Audi when I get to the bottom. Purple. I’ll paint the walls purple with a green stripe about 3 or 4 feet up from the floor, and if paint drips on the carpet, well, never mind, it’s just a rental and the clouds in the sky are telling me stories about Native Americans of long ago and their secrets are whispering in my ears just below the point of hearing, while I pace around my little house and watch the trees outside swaying with the wind, and my curtains blow with the wind, and the mailman will be here soon with my invitation to the White House dinner all because of my birthday; then there’s ice cream to eat, and pots of boiling water to prepare for the spaghetti dinner that I’ve forgotten to invite anyone to and the table will be set just right, move the pumpkin now, but be careful, we’ll carve it into a jack-o-lantern soon and set it out to frighten away the ghouls and ghosts. Spell check is the best invention ever. There.

Yes.

There.

That’s my manic mind. That’s today.

It’s time for a pill and sleep and then a call to the psychiatrist and then a therapy session with the psychologist.

It’s also time for a good cry. If only I could. I wish I could.

Hold me.

A Dream

I had an odd dream this morning just before I woke up. I was in a train that was going the wrong way. I decided to take matters into my own hands and took control of the train. I stopped it and started it going the right direction. However, my sight ahead on the tracks was limited to a tiny peephole in the front of the control room.

Sure enough, there was someone else on the same tracks that I couldn’t see, and we crashed. What was humorous was they were driving those long skinny cars used for what were called drag races when I was growing up.

If I had to guess what the dreams might mean, I’d say that I’d better make sure I have clear vision before I go my own way, or I might run into some surprises.

I saw my psychiatric prescribing nurse this week. She’s moved into a new office, and it was my first time there. We talked about the normal things like medication and such, and I brought up that I’m having some benign auditory hallucinations. I’m hearing chords of music. It’s nothing that makes any sense or has any meaning. It’s just descending scales of sound. It actually woke me up one night, and I had to go to the open window to make sure I wasn’t hearing something from a neighbor. I wasn’t. It was just me.

I take this to mean that I need to be diligent in my medication regimen. Like the dream, if I were to suddenly stop taking my medication, there would be some surprises.

I feel lucky to live in the time that I do. I’m glad that there is medication to help me with my mental illness.

Mental Health and Hope

I am excited about an article I just read in the New York Times. Here is the link:

NY Times article on mental illness and hope

I hope you can find the time to read the article. It’s got a lot of the same things that I’ve been saying with this blog.

We with mental illness can help ourselves through a variety of measures. There’s exercise. There’s meditation. There’s medication. There’s eating nutritional food.

The man in this article uses many means to deal with his issues. I hope we all can.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse

Since my panic attack, I’ve been very careful to take my clonazepam (generic for Klonopin). It helps keep me stable throughout the day and able to function. It helps me to sit and relax. I find that it helps me face the challenges of the day. There are simple challenges like washing the dishes, and there are mountainous ones like parking lots.

Last night I went to the theater, and on two separate occasions, I had to force myself to stay in my seat. If I hadn’t taken 0.5 mg of clonazepam in the afternoon, I’m certain I would have left. The anxiety and agitation would have been too much to handle. I’m glad I stayed, because I enjoyed the performance.

It was the drive home that produced the surprise. I was concentrating on the road in the dark, and my dead friend’s voice very clearly said, “I was sad there was no Shakespeare.” I took it in stride and thought to myself or to the voice, “You really would like to have seen a good soliloquy, wouldn’t you?” “Yes, I would,” came the instant reply again in my dead friend’s voice. I cut off the conversation and finished the drive home.

That night in my room, my head was full of sound. Actually, it was full of show tunes. “Getting to Know You” from The King and I ran over and over. I couldn’t make it quit.

Today, lying in bed to take a nap, I heard whispers.

My head is not my own. I feel broken.