My Schpiel

New clients view me with a mixture of distrust and curiosity. I am usually introduced to them by a case worker who gives little information about me or about what I do. Initially, I am seen as part of the system.

I have to break through any figurative walls quickly and carefully to reach a level playing field where I can teach the skills I’ve learned. Passing along what has helped me is my whole reason for working. Giving the tools that help me stay well and not relapse into crisis is what being a Certified Peer Specialist is all about. It’s my job.

In training, I was coached on how to introduce myself. I was given the Five Key Concepts and directed to use them when I meet a new client or group. Those concepts are

  • Hope
  • Personal Responsibility
  • Education
  • Self-Advocacy
  • Support

My introductory pitch to a new person is important. It will determine how we are going to interact. Once the mood is set, it is difficult to change it. I have to be vigilant in my own recovery and follow my own WRAP daily to be ready for these precious meetings. They are precious. Each meeting and each session and each client is a gift to my recovery. I heal freely sharing what I was taught.

My schpiel or pitch is conducted completely using “I” statements. It’s my story. It’s never exactly the same, but it meanders along an outline something like what follows:

When I was diagnosed with a mental illness 12 years ago, I was devastated. I felt like I’d hit a brick wall with no possibility of going around or over it. I lost my job, the respect of my family and many friends, and my self-respect. I felt utterly worthless. My life as it had been was over, and I felt damaged. What’s worse was I felt abandoned by society as a whole. I was an outcast.

I had many dark times. There were days when I had no energy to get out of bed except for the most rudimentary needs. There was a time I wouldn’t leave my apartment for days. I despaired that things would never improve.

I had no hope. Darkness swallowed me.

Luck put a group of loving friends in my life. They listened to my complaints and distracted me with silly card games and other activities. They dragged me into the sunshine when all I wanted was to stay locked behind my door. I also had a kind prescribing psychiatric nurse practitioners and at other times good psychiatrists. I have been extremely lucky to be in therapy with a highly regarded psychologist. All these people gave me a few tools to get through each day.

They showed me that hope was possible. Trying different combinations of medicine gave me ideas that I could improve. Getting out to socialize even in simple settings like the coffee shop was a labor for me, but I did it regardless of my internal desires. I began to exercise. I clung to my friends. I renewed my interest in meditation or guided visualization. I began to see how taking care of my most basic needs was an act of self-love.

Hope rekindled in me. It was slow, and over the course of years, I realized that I had a stake in making me feel better. I was miserable, and I wanted not to be. Those little daily tasks like taking my medicine, socializing, exercising, and meditating became a mantra of sorts. I saw that I had to take some responsibility if I wanted to feel good.

I also had a lot to learn. I was fortunate growing up to have an older sister who worked in the mental health field. I knew a lot about the importance of taking medicine each day. I heard about her experiences with patients, and I knew I did not want to be sick. I wanted good mental health, and I had to educate myself on my illness. Living with the Internet, this process was much easier than just a few years ago. I had a wealth of information at my fingertips, and I used it.

I began using the new information I’d gleaned from the Internet and books and sundry other resources to talk to my healthcare providers about my treatment. I became an active participant. Looking my psychiatrist in the face and stating plainly that I wanted help with a particular problem altered my life. I was a force in my own decision making. I was not a pawn of any system.

Finally, I permitted myself to have a group of supporters who have my best needs at heart. Today, I have an excellent prescribing nurse practitioner, and we work closely together on my medication needs and talk openly about events in my life. I have a top-notch therapist that I’ve known for over twenty years. I have a case worker who is one of my greatest cheerleaders. I have loving children. I have friends who truly love and support me in my endeavors.

I have a new lease on life.

The above is a broad example of my schpiel or introduction. It’s tailored for each setting and each new client, but it’s my joyous responsibility to follow the Five Key Concepts and model them in my life.

If there is anything I would like to emphasize it is regaining hope. Without it, I was lost. I cannot say enough how thrilled I am to do the work I do, to live the life I have, and to practice my own recovery. Today, I am hope-full.

Advertisements

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.

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.

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.

Adding a New Medication

I saw my prescribing nurse practitioner, and she’s added a mood stabilizer to my regimen of medication. It’s called lamotrigine. I don’t know what the non-generic name is. It seems that the past two times I’ve seen her I’ve been manic. It’s a concern, because I make rash decisions when I’m manic. I can’t think things through in a calm way. I rush headlong into projects and take on more than I can handle.

I noticed that I’ve spent a lot of money buying books on Amazon lately. It’s money that I shouldn’t have spent that way, but it’s done now. Spending sprees is an unfortunate symptom of bipolar disorder. The upside is I have a lot to entertain myself with for quite some time.

I continue to be surprised at the way readers discover this little blog. Most people find it through Google searches, and the one search I see often is a bipolar sufferer’s inability to watch television. I am amazed that this symptom is not talked about by researchers.

I can’t watch television, and it seems I’m far from alone. I’m allergic to it. When I try to sit down and relax in front of the TV, I last for five minutes at most. I start to squirm during those minutes, too. If I manage to keep the TV set on, then I start to pace around the room. Finally, I’ll end up turning it off.

Many people I’ve explained this to laugh and say I’m better off for it, but they’re missing the point. I can’t watch TV. It’s physically impossible. My mind won’t be still. The racing thoughts come like an itch at the back of my head that spreads like ants making me jittery. I miss out on shows that I would honestly like to see. Many of my friends watched “Downton Abbey” regularly, and I wanted to join. My brain won’t let me. Their discussions about characters and plot twists are lost on me. It’s a real loss.

I have trouble reading, too. I can only do it in short spurts. Gone are the days when I could sit and lavishly lose myself for hours in the pages of great writing. I complained about that for years to my psychiatrist and then to the nurse practitioner. Nothing seems to help. I’ll just have to take my time working my way through the stack of books from Amazon.

I almost forgot to mention I’ve had two panic attacks in the past month. What joy!

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.

My View

I’ve just finished watching two hours of video on youTube.com about bipolar disorder. To be honest, I watched the first hour-long episode yesterday and the second today. The star was the famous British comedian Stephen Fry who has bipolar. (Here’s the link to the beginning portion: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXkmb5s8Igc) Those of you who’ve followed this blog for some time know what an achievement it is for me to sit and watch a television show, even if it is on the computer. You can search the archives for “I can’t watch TV” to read about my troubles in that arena.

The show aired five years ago, but I believe many of its ideas still ring true for today. It was autobiographical in many respects, and Fry talked about his own troubled past, which included being expelled from school, incarceration, and suicide attempts. He was finally diagnosed bipolar at the age of 37. I was 38 when I was diagnosed.

In the two episodes, Fry interviewed many people with bipolar and their families, experts in the field, psychiatrists, and therapists. Fry also points out that he has never taken medication for the disease. He meets other people who do take medication, some who have and have stopped, and others who take it at times and go off it at other times, and some like himself haven’t taken it at all. He and the other people not taking medication readily admitted to terrible depressions and exhilarating manias. It was frightening for me to watch that part actually.

It’s difficult to conceive of the seduction of the manias when the black depressions always follow. The reasoning is that it might be different this time, and it never ever is. In the middle of the mania, logical thought flies out the window. As one of the therapists interviewed said, there are no troubles in the whole world to the manic bipolar person.

I’ve been stable for a number of years now and have had no serious delusions for some time. The reason is plain and simple. My medications work. They do not numb me. They do not take away my personality. They do not disarm me.

On the contrary, they enliven me. I feel like I can accomplish daily tasks. When I’m depressed, I can’t even manage to brush my own teeth. When I’m manic, there’s no end to the glory that I can dream up for myself. Medication tempers those extremes and gives me a framework to live inside. It’s a comfortable range of emotions. I do not feel the black despair, and I’m spared the teetering highs.

I do not for the life of me understand the reluctance many bipolar people have to medication. I cannot comprehend the delusion that so many harbor about the drugs taking away one’s personality when there is so much experience to the contrary. The medication available in 2011 is so far advanced from what it was just a decade ago. It is light-years ahead of what was available 30 to 50 years ago.

I live with bipolar. I take medication. I’m not numb to life. No, I’m living it.