A Wide-Ranging Session

One client during my internship has grown into a really interesting case. Readers will remember him as the combative one. He has returned several times since that appointment, and his attitude has always been good. He enjoys lively conversation, but he’s never returned to the highly argumentative tone.

Today, he arrived and sat down and informed me he’d almost taken the bus to a town about two hours away. Taking this trip is his way of saying he wants to kill himself. He’s taken the trip many times in the past decade, but he’s thankfully never followed through. His routine there is always the same. He drinks rum on the bus ride and then continues to drink the first day there. He also smokes cigars that first day. He sleeps outdoors and awakens with the intention of killing himself the second day. Instead, he takes the two-hour bus ride back to the care home where he has a bed.

I knew about this habit of his, and I’ve known about his chronic suicidality since I first met him. My response to him this morning was to thank him for telling me about his plans. Then I said that I was glad he hadn’t gone on the trip, because it would have left me without a client and I would have been bored.

He quickly said, “That’s not a good enough reason for me not to go.”

I responded that I completely understood, but that I still didn’t want to be bored. He was really interested in my seemingly nonchalant answer.

My real answer was to then launch into continuing to fill out his WRAP folder. We approached the section entitled Crisis Plan, which requires a lot of writing by the client. They have to think thoroughly about how they want their care to be conducted in case they fall into crisis. My client mentioned simply that he didn’t want to do it. I agreed that we should stop since I’ve been trained that WRAP is self-directed. He did say he wasn’t ready to completely give up on the Plan. He wants a hook. He’s looking for something that will give him a lease on life.

I told him again of my own WRAP and how it changed my life. I went from having chronic negative self-talk to none. I talked about the dark times I’d seen, and I called them that: the dark times. I kept it general. Using “I” statements, I mentioned that since writing my WRAP, I had not relapsed into dark times, and I had not required a stay in the hospital. My WRAP has kept them at bay.

His reaction was to announce that dark times are the natural state of mankind, and they shouldn’t be fought. I thank him for telling me his ideas, and then I surprised him. I agreed with him. Dark times may be the natural state for many, but I don’t have to stay stuck there. I was careful to mention that I was speaking for me.

This client has a set of interesting ideas that he regularly says for all to hear. “Man is a primate.” “Man is alienated from life.” “Life is meaningless.” “God is dead.”

I surprised him again today. I agreed with him once more. I told him I thought it was indeed difficult for people to find an ultimate meaning in life. He smiled and said he had nothing to say in response. I continued with my story and how important WRAP was to helping me out of the dark times and into a state of serenity. That piqued his interest. I explained how the Daily Maintenance List kept me on an even keel so I wouldn’t fall back into a crisis.

“The whole meaning of WRAP is to keep us out of crisis,” I said.

He looked at me quizzically and muttered something about the meaninglessness of life.

I answered him by describing the meaning I find in a string of small things. I love my job. I love my family. I enjoy reading and writing for myself and others to read. Finally, I have a passion for theater. While I reserved my speech to “I” statements, I tried to steer the conversation to his enjoyments. He loves classical music and speaks about it with fervor.

Then I mentioned the word “pleasure,” and we started a tangential discussion of how a meaningless life could or couldn’t possibly have any. The talk was fascinating. We spoke about hedonism, and yes, we used that word. He’s a smart man and has read a good deal of philosophy. I threw Epicurus into the mix, and he was impressed when I mentioned that Epicurus was a champion of the middle path rather than what Epicurean philosophy has come to represent, namely hedonism. My client said he preferred a more stoical way.

We ended our time together with a talk about Shakespeare’s sonnets and specifically, the unknown lady mentioned therein. My client called Mozart and Beethoven eternal, and I said the lady of the sonnets was, too. Shakespeare even tells the lady she will be eternal in his words. My client appreciates the beauty of those words. He was surprised at me again that I seemed so enthusiastic about the Bard. For our session next week, I’m going to take a few of the sonnets for us to study, I think.

It was indeed a great session. I am blessed to know this man. He touches me with his candor. He honestly appears to be searching for something that he can’t or is afraid to grasp. I’m not so presumptuous to imagine I will help him find it, but I truly hope I can demonstrate that reaching out doesn’t have to be painful. A desire can sometimes lead to pleasant surprises.

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Family Time and the Bipolar Mind

I am a person recovering with bipolar disorder, and I have a noisy, nosy, and loving family. I am one of the oddities. I’m gay, I have a mental illness, and I do not shy away from discussing either of those two subjects.

I like being gay. It’s who I am, and since I’ve come to accept it, I am more at home with my emotional self.

I do not like having bipolar disorder, but what am I going to do about it? Seriously. This blog is over three years old, and it details many harrowing experiences and unhealthy habits of living with the illness. It also shows good evidence for the case of recovery from mental illness. I have grown from a suicidal, frightened person to one filled with hope looking to the future and expecting a good life.

I have traveled very far from the comfort of my cottage near the blue sea to the very first family reunion my clan has ever had, other than gathering at weddings and funerals. We are here to laugh and rejuvenate old bonds.

Sitting at the small airport waiting to board my first of several flights, fear gripped me. My mind was clouded, and my thoughts were not calm. I used deep breathing and some mild meditation to regain serenity. I managed to sleep on the plane, giving me a respite. Happily, the trip was without incident.

My son, my mother, and one of my sisters met me on arrival at my destination airport, and joy filled me. Really, gratitude is all I can think of for these people I love and have loved for so many years.

At home, attitudes changed a bit, and some of the party began to behave in ways that demonstrated fine layers of underlying animosity and disappointment. I did not change my demeanor of love and acceptance. I have learned much over my years of recovery and these months of recent study:

  • I cannot change others.
  • I can accept love.
  • I can reject what causes me fear.
  • From a place of healthy love for me, I can offer love.
  • I cannot force others to accept my love.
  • Hope is the greatest gift I can share.

Notions like these listed and more give me the fortitude necessary to meet family. My group like countless others is a curious bunch. They have questions, and they are not shy. They laugh and hug and shake hands.

They question.

Armed with self-knowledge and self-acceptance, I meet them and give freely. I hold back nothing. I laugh at the jokes and make some of my own. Politics rears its head, and I mean the kind on the family level. I slipped into the old familiar ways of taking sides, but I quickly realized my error and gave apologies and walked away.

Avoidance or walking away may appear cowardly to some, but it is actually a healthy coping mechanism for my bipolar mind. I can focus or think or practice a quick meditation to gain a sense of steadfastness, and I can reenter the fray.

Family gatherings are a minefield for the bipolar mind. People with mental illness often lack the ordinary coping mechanisms others use effortlessly. We must learn:

  • Recognizing emotions that are healthy and ones that are overreacting.
  • Understanding how our bodies show us our emotions.
  • Releasing emotions in appropriate ways.
  • Simply enjoying ourselves.
  • Creating boundaries that accept love and reject fear.

I am enjoying myself at my family reunion. I have not been prefect. I have engaged in some discussions that were wrong. To put in bluntly, I’ve gossiped. The growth I have experienced, though, allows me to know it and move past it. I now can right any wrongs and return to the task at hand: having fun.

Bipolar Dating Ideas

Can it be so very hard to date when one has bipolar disorder? If the disease is untreated, then daily life is hard and not just relationships.

Is it so very hard to date a person with bipolar disorder? Again, if untreated, then everything is going to be a struggle.

Relationships are difficult for all of us regardless whether one has a mental illness or not. Conversing, listening, deciphering body language, and understanding are not easy with a veil of worry cast over one’s eyes. “Is she listening?” “Does he care about this topic?” Our internal dialogue bounces with questions and conceptions.

Add bipolar disorder to the mixture, and a cauldron seethes boiling and popping. Let me speak from experience.

I once saw a drama depicting a man meditating. Actors moved slowly behind him reciting lines of his wandering thoughts, distracting him. It raced to the forefront of my mind that I thought in an entirely different way. My thoughts never wandered in and out. They charged. They bombarded me. I could simultaneously hold a thought and understand I was conscious of the thinking, and I knew on five different levels my brain was electrified with inspiration, thinking about thinking about thinking about…sigh. It tires me now to remember.

Yet, I’m very lucky. With my prescribing nurse practitioner, we’ve found a regimen that works. With the job training and WRAP, I’ve found a written system I use to calm my racing thoughts. I found help, and I believe it’s out there for all of us.

Getting help was the first step for me. I’m stable, and with that knowledge, I can reach out to friends and associates, searching for a mate. That search is exciting. The Internet is open with a plethora of sites waiting for us. Some cost. Some are free. Our local areas have many places we can volunteer our time, opening the door to meeting many new people.

What to do then becomes the question. How do we spend time getting to know someone? How much of ourselves do we reveal and when? Those questions plague people with bipolar disorder. I started slowly with my current beau. So far so good, but so far is so far.

We’ve met for coffee. We’ve lunched together. We’ve sat by the water and strolled through the park. We haven’t seen a movie together. We haven’t done many things together. He’s busy and far away. I’ve been busy with job training. Life happens. We’ll see where things go.

I enjoy imagining free or low-cost things for us.

  • Walks along the seashore.
  • Casual days in the park.
  • Picnicking.
  • Driving on country roads.
  • Taking in scenic spots.
  • Visiting free museums.
  • Meeting at the coffee shop.
  • Sightseeing like tourists.
  • Roaming a bookstore.
  • Leisurely meandering through the local library.
  • Reading aloud together.
  • Sitting in the sun.

Really, the list is endless. There are so many joys of life to be gained by exploring the ordinary world around each of us. The artist Andy Warhol once said, “Once you ‘got’ Pop, you could never see a sign the same way again.” Finding beauty in the ordinary is what I strive for. Making a date of the usual turns any day into magic.

Looking for magic in a relationship turns any couple into a happy one.

Let’s make magic happen. Let’s be open to the warm touch of another. Let’s recover. Let’s do it together.

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.

Solitude

I wish I could tell you I feel great right now, but I can’t. That would be a lie. I’m feeling lonely and afraid. There are several reasons.

The first is completely out of my control. My computer broke. I should say that my desktop computer that I really like died. It needs a new hard drive. Thankfully, it’s still under warranty, and I don’t have to send it anywhere. A technician will come to me with the new part and do the repairs here at my home. I’m also grateful that I have everything backed up to an external hard drive.

Another reason I’m not feeling good right now is that I’m 30 to 40 pounds overweight due to one of my medications. Depakote is known to cause weight gain and to make it very difficult to lose it. It’s a mood stabilizer that has some other nice side effects helping with concentration, which is something I’ve complained about for a long time.

At my last visit with my regular doctor, he mentioned that he would like to see me lose weight. He knows all about my mental health issues, and I explained the problems with Depakote. He said no more. He’s a good doctor and leaves what he doesn’t fully understand to other doctors.

I did something that I preach against in this blog and in my daily life. I stopped taking the Depakote. I took it on myself to stop one of my medications, because I’m fat. I don’t like being fat. None of my clothes fit, and I certainly can’t afford to go out and buy new ones.

Writing this information makes me realize I’m not taking my own advice. Do I want to be fat and stable or thin and moody?

I’ll choose stable and also get back into walking regularly. You read that correctly. I’ve stopped walking. I moved a year and a half ago away from the park where I used to walk and got out of the habit.

I went walking yesterday back at that old park, and it felt wonderful. I’m going to ease back into walking. It was really a joy.

I need more joy. I’ll give myself a daily dose of joy, and I’ll start taking my Depakote again right away.

Keeping busy

If there’s one thing that helps this bipolar person, it is keeping busy. I stay out of my head and stay in the here and now. I’ve been trying to keep busy the past several weeks since I wrote last.

My visit to my prescribing psychiatric nurse practitioner went well, and she gave me some samples of a new medication to add just for the time being, just until the mania passes. It’s called Geodon. I took it for a while many years ago, and it had some serious side-effects. One of them was drowsiness. I couldn’t stay awake. I’m glad to say I’m not having that reaction this time around. I do have to take it with food, though, since it gives me a bit of indigestion otherwise. It is having one possible side-effect that I don’t like, and I’ll get to that later.

The nurse also increased one of the other medications I’m taking. It’s called Depakote, and it has a horrible side-effect of increasing a person’s appetite. There’s a lot of weight gain associated with it. I can tell you for a fact they’re not kidding. I swear I could eat nothing but grilled chicken breast for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and I’d still gain weight. I hate it. My regular doctor hates it, and there’s nothing that can be done about it except stop taking it.

There’s my medication in a nutshell at the moment, but I promised to talk about one possible side-effect to the medication Geodon. It’s a sexual one, and it’s not pretty. While I can still get an erection, I can’t ejaculate, which is not only embarrassing, it’s downright painful. Thankfully, the Geodon is temporary, so the problem should be the same. If it’s not, all my health care advocates are going to hear about it loudly and strongly.

Keeping busy shouldn’t seem like a problem to a manic person. The difficulty lies in keeping busy doing things that will be healthy in all ways. I’ve spent some time hunting for sex. That’s a common occurrence during mania. This time I was sure to keep it safe and enjoyable, even if one attempt did end or not in the way it was supposed to. I spent time reading a play that I’m going to direct. It’s a Christmas play, and I’m very excited about directing for the first time. I’m relieved that it’s short and should be a lot of fun for all involved.

I’m also keeping busy with my kids’ busy schedules. It seems like they all have to be somewhere at the same time, but it’s a joy to help out. I’m very lucky to have people in my life who need help.

If you’re reading this and you think you have nothing to do, I can recommend what I do. I have volunteered at the library. They need help even if it’s just dusting the books. I read. I study about bipolar disorder online. I read other blogs written by people with the illness. I write to friends. I go to A.A. meetings, which may or may not be an issue for you. I meditate. I daydream.

But I try not to think too much. That’s never been helpful for me.

Agoraphobia

A simple definition of agoraphobia is “a pathological fear of being in public places, often resulting in the sufferer becoming housebound.”

Yesterday was supposed to be a happy day of sorts for me. Instead, it was what I would describe as one long panic attack. I had to take my full daily prescribed dose of my anti-anxiety medication to make it through. Yesterday was the twelfth anniversary of my sobriety. Instead of feeling happy, joyous, and free, I experienced an elevated heart rate, racing thoughts, and thoughts of impending doom. The panic-attack-like symptoms lasted nearly all day.

I was extremely uncomfortable at the noon meeting I went to and had to sit on my hands to keep from standing and rushing out of the room. I was again uncomfortable during the evening meeting and could not keep my feet still. In both meetings, I had a hard time concentrating.

I have for many years had an unreasonable fear of parking lots. I hate them. I overcome this by having certain rows I go down at certain places, and I never vary. If I can’t park in my regular row, I don’t shop that day.

I have quit my volunteer position at the library’s learning center. I have quit another club I was a member of.

On a continuing note, I can’t watch TV. I simply can’t sit still for it, and I get feelings of high anxiety trying to watch it. I can’t even watch videos on the internet. They make me antsy in the extreme.

I don’t feel like I’m winning against my brain today. I feel broken.