Interior Wounds and Exterior Smiles

I hurt.

I have just come from a psychotherapy appointment where I laid bare my latest problems. I’m hyper-sexual, and I’m spending money.

I can’t remember whether I’ve written about this or whether that even matters, but bipolar disorder has many seasonal symptoms. I have first-hand knowledge that when the seasons change, my illness demonstrates its hold on me. I often don’t realize it, until it’s almost over or completely over. I’m in one of those periods now, or perhaps I’m coming out of it.

Hyper-sexuality and spending money are symptoms of mania, and I’m manic. My decisions are sometimes flawed now.

However, I have a resolve not to feel shame or guilt. I spoke openly about my recent sexual forays to my therapist, and I will continue to do so. Next, I have to gain the courage to call my nurse and report my mania to her. Sometimes her bedside manner is lacking, and I’m reluctant to talk openly. I am thankful to have friends, old and new. The healing began after my last post here when a correspondent wrote me offering to listen. I wrote back about my troubles. That opening allowed me to chat with my best friend without fear, and then today, I spoke at depth to my therapist.

My money situation is not a problem to my mind. I budgeted some large purchases very recently. All my bills are covered. I will not accept negative looks and judgement about my actions there.

Outside, I’m all smiles.

It’s a mask, and I’m not ready to write about it.

Life Couldn’t Be Better

My internship at my job is finished, and I am pleased to report it was a success for all involved. I received high marks on my final evaluation from my superiors at the clinic where I worked. One called me a gem. The other praised not only my ability working with a wide range of clients but also with my demeanor, too. She appreciated my work and me as a person. It was quite humbling.

I’ve gone from periods of isolation and severe depression to days of acting out improperly on all my urges. That was me not too long ago. I know mental illness. I live with it, and today, I can happily report it does not rule my life.

What changed? My medication regimen works, and I got into a job training program that gives me fulfillment. And WRAP happened. We worked our own WRAPs in the first 2 days of our job training, and my world turned over. That awful voice present for decades vanished. For me, WRAP is a miracle.

If you have mental illness and are interested in recovery, you can find a WRAP facilitator by clicking here.

In my final days of the internship, I finished working with the WRAP group and was able to hand out some Certificates of Achievement to the participants. It was quite rewarding. The smiles of all around were contagious, and the memory makes me smile now. The group came up with some great thoughts throughout the sessions. We continued with the section called “When Things Are Breaking Down” and its relevant Action Plan, and then we launched into the long Crisis Plan.

That section of WRAP is formidable. It gives the writer a chance to think deeply about how they want their care to be structured should they be in real crisis and need careful treatment by professionals. It includes pages for listing supporters and their roles and a place to write down names of people who should not be consulted for any help during a crisis. There are pages for listing doctors and other healthcare professionals and medications that one takes.

Desired treatment facilities and hospitals get their own pages, and finally there is a page for detailing when the Crisis Plan should be inactivated. After that, there is a whole section called the “Post Crisis Plan.” It is long and involved and many of the questions cannot be answered until one has been through the crisis.

The group was engaged and attentive and eager. They worked hard and earned their final certificates. I am glad to have been a part of their experience. It made me happy.

Once the work was finished and the internship was over, I spoke at length by phone with the head of the training I’d completed. He was complimentary, and then he dropped the bombshell. They are working on hiring me on a limited contractual basis to lead groups using various resources, until they can maneuver the state bureaucracy to hire me in a regular job.

They want me.

They like me.

I can’t begin to relate my joy knowing that I am a success. The voices in my head told me all my life I was worthless. I’m not. I have value. I had it all along. Now, I have found a place to help and to be a part of an organization whose goal is to help. I am the face of mental health recovery.

How to Date a Person with Bipolar Disorder

My most popular posts are ones relating to dating and bipolar disorder. I’m glad there are so many people interested in this topic. I’m also a bit puzzled by it.

Are there rules for dating a person with bipolar disorder? Yes, and they are the same ones for dating a person without any diagnosis of mental illness.

Here’s my list of rules for dating a person with bipolar disorder:

  1. Be genuine.
  2. Think of the needs of the person you’re dating before your own in so much as you can without harming yourself.
  3. Laugh when the other person is happy, and comfort them when they are sad.
  4. Communicate clearly your needs and listen carefully to what the other person needs, too.
  5. Get to know a little about bipolar disorder by researching it on the Internet, through books, or by asking healthcare professionals.

Again, I don’t think this list is exclusive to dating a person who has bipolar disorder. In my opinion, it pertains to any relationship. A person with bipolar disorder wants what any other person does from a romantic relationship. We want intimacy, understanding, and ultimately, love.

Having stated what I consider obvious, I’ll give some thought to what many see as the difficulties of dating a person with bipolar disorder.

I have read several online forums in which some people complain that the person they are dating who has bipolar disorder is moody. I read recently one description of a bipolar person running hot and cold. In other words, the person with the disorder seemed quite close and caring and affectionate one day. The next, they were distant and curt and even mean. My thoughts on this situation are few. Please, don’t ever ask the person with bipolar disorder whether or not they are taking their medicine as prescribed nor if their symptoms are flaring up. What you might try doing instead is explaining to the bipolar sufferer how you feel when they behave this way. Talk about your feelings and not about their disease. Try to keep any discussion centered on your feelings about observed behavior.

In fact, I would suggest that you not talk about their disease at all, unless they want to. I have bipolar disorder, but it doesn’t define me. I am many things, and having bipolar is only one piece. When you are together with the person you are dating, find other things to talk about, like art or music or movies or really anything other than the disease. Don’t talk about their medication regimen or other aspects of their treatment, unless they want to.

Plan activities they like, too. Ordinary things can become extraordinary. Baking cookies together can be quite flirtatious. Romance in the kitchen is a lot of fun really. A person with bipolar disorder needs to eat and so do you. Cook a meal together.

If you want to be extravagant, cook the meal for your date. Don’t let them assist you. Make him feel like a king or her like a queen. Tell him/her to sit and relax. I really enjoy having friends over and cooking something with love to give them.

If you talk by phone often or send text messages regularly and that suddenly stops, don’t assume the worst. Your date may simply be having a low period. Your date may not be good at expressing what is happening, and they may not desire to. Don’t take it personally. As with other things I’ve written here, ask what you can do to help them feel better. Offer hugs, asking nothing in return. Don’t assume it’s the disease. There are myriad reasons for a person with bipolar disorder to feel low. We are just as prone to sadness as anyone in the general population. A low point does not automatically lead to serious depression, which calls for a doctor’s intervention.

I can’t help but reiterate a person with bipolar disorder that is under treatment wants what every person does. We aren’t different.

What does one do when the disease really appears to be altering your date’s behavior? There may be times in which you find them behaving unreasonably or even in a bizarre fashion. All I can do is relate my experience and personal knowledge. I am not a doctor. However, I am a Certified Peer Specialist in mental health, and I have been trained in how to relate to other people with mental illness.

Here are my suggestions for dealing with a person who is acting out of the ordinary:

  1. Be genuine.
  2. Make sure you and your date are safe.
  3. Communicate using “I” statements. Don’t pummel your date with “you” statements and accusations.
  4. Speak about concrete examples of behavior that you are observing.
  5. Be respectful of your date and yourself.

I think it’s important to point out, however sad it may be, that the disease can affect a person negatively, and your feelings may get hurt. Only you can decide whether to continue dating an individual with the disorder. Only you can tell if that person is actively seeking help or not. Each situation is unique, and every person is special.

Mental illness carries a tremendous stigma. It is not fully understood by doctors and is less so by the general population. Having one does not mean that a person is not worth the effort required in forming a romantic relationship. All relationships need work.

If you are dating a person who tells you they have bipolar disorder, you should feel honored they shared that information. Thank the person for opening up. I dated a man for eight or nine months and told him my diagnosis only to have him abandon me, leaving my life without a trace even though I was completely stable during our time together. It scarred me.

Dating is all about enjoying yourself. Ask your date if they are enjoying their time with you. Talk often; listen more. Explore your own feelings and your date’s. Don’t assume any particular behavior is a symptom.

Finally, be genuine.

The Jitters

Bipolar disorder is a disease, and I can really feel it today. I am dis-eased. To put it simply, I’m uneasy. I’ve got too many irons in the fire, as it were. I’ve got too much going on.

I am leaving for a long trip in a week. I’m flying far and staying with my aging parents for three weeks. We’re also having a family reunion while I’m there. I am looking forward to the trip, but it does cause me anxiety. I am going to be revealing my sexual orientation to many of them for the first time. That’s enough to make anybody nervous.

At the same time, I have heard from the bureaucrats in charge of my internship placement that things are looking up. I should be meeting with the head of a mental health clinic here before I fly away. It will be a simple meeting and less than a formal interview. Still, I’m nervous about it.

My car needs some repairs. One required the mechanic to order a part, and we’ve been waiting for it to arrive for three months. The piece arrived, but the mechanic has not picked it up, and the repairs are delayed, and my mind is spinning.

I spoke to my mother about bringing an old laptop computer to give them. It would make sharing pictures infinitely easier. She agreed much to my surprise. I spent a lot of time getting it cleaned of all my old things that are unneeded. I’ve made it into a very simple-to-use machine really meant for the easiest tasks only. I got them an email account, and now, when I get there, we’ll only have to find them an Internet service provider. Hopefully, that will prove simple.

My stomach is churning. I can hear ringing in my ears. My feet want to dance under the desk. I have the jitters.

I am reminded that this, too, shall pass.

Breathe. Just keep breathing, and do one thing at a time.

Week 2 of Job Training

The second week of job training starts tomorrow, and I’m very excited. I’m looking forward to it so much that I only got five hours sleep last night. That’s not a good thing for me. I normally sleep nine whole hours. I’m concerned that it’s a sign of a swing toward mania.

I got some very good financial news recently, and I’m watching myself for signs of overspending. Spending sprees are a symptom of bipolar widely recognized by psychiatry. There’s nothing better than a whole day spent losing money I don’t have for this gay man. So far, the only luxury has been a dinner with one of my daughters at a cheap restaurant. I don’t think that’s overdoing it yet.

I’m taking my medication as prescribed. I am taking care of myself by brushing my teeth, etc. I am doing the daily maintenance called for in my WRAP.

Who am I kidding? I’m not faithfully following my WRAP. I’m neither meditating nor exercising. I am doing the other things on my Plan:

  • maintaining my sobriety
  • drinking plenty of water
  • eating healthy meals
  • chatting with my best friend
  • checking in with myself
  • talking to supporters
  • educating myself about my recovery and my illness
  • writing
  • being open about my sexuality

I am following those points on my Plan but not two important ones.

Meditating keeps me focused. Even a short five-minute session in the morning affects my mood for the whole day. I sit on a stool in my bedroom and breathe, and then I follow a well-worn path to my happy place, which you can read about here.

I want to exercise. I love walking. I love power walking to be precise. But I can’t right now. I’ve developed painful plantar faciitis, and simple walking around the house is difficult. The good news is that the job training requires me to travel and stay in a hotel with an exercise room. Perhaps there will be some machine there I can use. If I like it, I’ll check out the YMCA’s gym when I get home next week. Maybe I’ll join.

You know what? I’m really fine. I will meditate today and hobble around a local park for some fresh air. I’ve made — what are for me — earth-shattering changes in the last three weeks, and I am happy.

I am happy!

You were born with wings, why prefer to crawl through life? - Rumi

You were born with wings, why prefer to crawl through life? – Rumi

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 Survived the Trip

Doing things one step at a time proved the answer to my anxiety about my weekend away. I made it through security both going and returning. I sat in crowded vehicles in very heavy traffic. I maneuvered through crowded streets and slept in strange beds. I was in odd places and didn’t panic. In fact, I didn’t have a panic attack once.

I did all this with less than the normal amount of the medication I take for anxiety. If there’s one thing I learned from this short trip, it’s to double check the number of pills I take with me. I took too few, but I made it through with a bit to spare.

I came away from the weekend with more than that. I spent the time in close contact with family and enjoyed myself. I got to experience a grand, Broadway-style musical, and it reinvigorated my passion for something I love: theater. I’d been so tired for a long time, and now I’m excited again. I love making theater happen. Being in it and working behind the scenes brings me life.

I’m home now in my little town, dreaming of how to make theater happen. We can’t bring Broadway here, but we can have fun and learn to make the best shows possible. We can grow to be better at acting and building the technical aspects of theater.

I face much of life looking through a veil worried about my emotions. Is this elation the beginning of a manic phase? Will this melancholy lead to depression and all its wretchedness? I can’t let my emotions run rampant. They will literally kill me.

Still, I can enjoy myself. I can manage difficult situations. I have tools that enable me to live stably. I have people working on my behalf to make my life manageable.

I am working to make my life manageable.