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.

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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.

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.

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.

Brain on Fire

I wonder if it’s possible. Can I describe it? Are there words adequate to illustrate what my reality is like when I’m not on medication?

I moved once from a big city where I had easy access to public health facilities to a rural area where I isolated and did not attempt to find the health care that I needed. I have no excuse. I was scared. I took 3 month’s worth of meds with me.

I knew that I would run out of my meds, and so I took matters into my own hands to wean myself off the best way that I knew how. I was taking valproic acid as my main bipolar medication, and so I started by cutting my dosage by 25%, and the symptoms began right away.

Walking up the stairs to my room one day, I felt a hand reach into my head and begin to squeeze. I gripped the handrail to keep from falling. It felt like the hand of some god had decided that I no longer needed my brain and was trying to extract it. I can’t say that it was exactly painful. I believe it would be better described as immense pressure.

The shock was tremendous. I remember when I was diagnosed with bipolar, I felt betrayed by my brain. I’d had delusions in the intervening years, but now I knew that my brain wanted something completely foreign to what I’d ever imagined. It wanted out.

Next came the sobbing. Sitting in my room, I soundlessly sobbed doubled over in a chair, gulping air, heaving. Uncontrollable terror ripping at the inside of my skull.

During one episode, my brain caught fire. It seethed and writhed and ate up all the oxygen that I could consume. Pressing my hands against the sides of my head, I squeezed, attempting to extinguish the flames I could feel licking at the inside of my skull.

By this time, I was out of meds. I began to hallucinate.

Hearing things. Singing came from the toilet.

Seeing things. A young man with blond hair sitting at my desk, wearing a plaid shirt.

Pacing. Moving. Unable to control. Thoughts racing. The only thing consistent were the thoughts of suicide. Longing for peace.

Erratic. Disjointed. Only suicide is clear. All else whirls.

The phone saved me. I called a friend I knew who had connections to psychologists, but he called a help-line for me instead. I was whisked into the system. Hospitalized. Blessedly hospitalized.

And sedated. After the hell of the months leading up to it. I welcomed the sleep. Deep dreamless sleep. Exhausted sleep.

My Medication

I woke up in the very early hours this morning and slipped into the bathroom to take a half milligram of generic Klonopin (clonazepam). It was still extremely early, and I wasn’t ready to face the day. A half milligram puts me to sleep, and I’m prescribed to take it as necessary up to 3 full milligrams per day. I haven’t taken more than 2 milligrams in a day in a very long time.

I believe that the Strattera has something to do with that. I was complaining about not being able to concentrate, pacing in my apartment, and various other–what I realize now to be ADD–symptoms for more than a year to my doctor who wasn’t hearing me. I was finally forthright enough to stop answering his usual questions and stated plainly and emphatically that I was suffering greatly by not being able to sit for even 5 minutes and read 2 full sentences of any book. He gave me some samples of Strattera, and the change was almost immediate. I feel awake. I can sit still. I can read again, which is one of my dearest passions. Most importantly, I don’t use nearly as much of the anti-anxiety clonazepam as I used to.

My main medication for my bipolar disorder is Abilify. I take 15 milligrams. It works for me by controlling my symptoms.

In another post, I will write about what it’s like for me not to be on medication. Let me just say here that I get terrifying psychotic features. I take medication, because I cannot function without it. I cannot do the normal daily things that people without bipolar do without thinking. I can’t even brush my teeth. I shut down.