Being Left Behind

A former lover killed himself two days ago. He was a kind, sweet gentle soul who never uttered a harsh word against anyone but his wife. Yes, he was a married man, and that’s just one of the reasons he was a former lover and not a present one.

I first met him maybe six years ago, and I was instantly attracted to him physically. It was the kind of attraction that felt like pure, unadulterated need. Nothing came of it. He moved far away.

Then one day, he was back. We met for coffee, and in that public place, it was all I could do to keep my hands off him. He electrified me. I put my hand on his knee and felt the charge surge through me. I know he felt it, too, because we made it to bed rapidly.

The affair did not last. I could not satisfy his many needs, and actually, I encouraged him to get psychiatric help, which he did. He had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, too. He called me quickly after that asking, “Are we still friends?” “Yes,” I replied. “With benefits?” he continued. “No,” I managed to eek out.

I saw him several times after that in social settings, and the meetings were pleasant.

I remember his soft voice, his questioning eyes, and his wide hands.

I remember his want. He had an enormous void.

His needs, desires, wants, and that void are all gone now, and I am left behind to carry the sadness and the anger.

I can’t tell his friends we were lovers. He was not out of the closet. I can’t tell my friends I lost a lover to suicide. We knew the same people.

It’s all bottled up inside me. The cork stopper is pushed down tight, and I so want it to pop open and release the pain and tension that boils in my stomach and sits on my shoulders.

I feel very much alone.

Finding Stability

Bipolar illness is — I’m sorry for the cliche — a roller coaster. There are periods of slower ratcheting up to highs that catapult a sufferer into the depths. The rush of the ride provides momentary exhilaration but is always followed by the hollow feeling of the pits that drag the stomach down. What’s more, the person with the illness doesn’t realize it’s possible to live without the constant highs and lows.

When manic, I am exuberant. Colors are brighter. My nose is more sensitive to anything around. I want to hear words of praise for whatever I might be engaged in. I want music, and interestingly, it can be quiet and soothing. It doesn’t have to be raucous and loud. I want to eat. I like spicy food or the flood of good chocolate melting around my mouth or a piece of crisp toast flooded with ever-so-slightly-salty butter. And I want hugs. Touch becomes important. Clothes have weight, and I feel them. I don’t just dress. I adorn myself.

Depression slows the whole organism. Senses become dull. Simple routines are hurdles to overcome. The example for me is brushing my teeth. When I find I neglect that small chore, I know I’m sliding down the slope. Most importantly, my mind turns on itself.

Negative thoughts abound. They are present on awakening. I hear them when I look in the mirror. Turning the corner from the living room into the hallway, they bounce to the front of my mind. It’s not something that can be battled with affirmations. If reciting happy ideas would rid me of these horrendous voices, I would never have had to endure them even once.

In my eleven years since I was diagnosed bipolar type one, I have been hospitalized four times for psychotic breaks, suicide attempts, and suicidal thoughts. A person isn’t admitted to the hospital for biting his nails. I applied for and now receive government benefits that provide me a means to live. I cannot work a normal job. Government benefits for mental illness are notoriously hard to come by and require a long wait. Mine came in a short six months revealing a bit of something about my case.

My distant past was fueled by alcohol, which ceased to be a remedy for me a very long time ago. Once that fog lifted, mental illness rushed to the foreground. Stress on almost any level stops me in my tracks nowadays. If positive thinking is not enough, if prayer is not the answer, if herbal remedies won’t suffice, where then is the fix to the conundrum?

Happily, it’s in a mixture of modern medicine, vigilant self-help, and heavy reliance on a tried and true network of support. I rely on medicine to help regulate the highs and lows of my condition. It works. It’s been proven. I know in my experience that taking medication for bipolar illness far outweighs the alternative. I help me by practicing some simple strategies for coping with the extremes. I try to remain logical when I’m manic. I vociferously question those negative voices that hound me. I exercise, which may be one of the most important components of all. I meditate. It’s not a formal religious ceremony. It’s something that centers me and gives me a safe place to go in a troubled mind.

Then there’s therapy. After 26 years of it, I’m sold on its benefits. I get the advantage of sitting with a professional who is not emotionally attached to my situations and hearing sound words of help and solace and encouragement and even chastisement but never judgement.

I’ve come a very long way when I look back over the years. I’ve survived self-hatred and self-loathing that have come close to killing me on a number of occasions. I’ve rid myself of fears that spotted the inside of my eyelids with angry points of lights. I’m continuing to work on filling my life with substance and meaning.

I am an active participant in my own existence today.

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.

Life Changes

I recently celebrated a milestone and have had some time to think about my life before and after.

Before sobriety, diagnosis, and treatment:

• I dreamt of suicide and thought of it daily.

• I had self-loathing down to a tee. I’m gay, and I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian household, which taught me deep hatred.

• My relationships were not longstanding. I had fiery, quick friendships that lasted as long as the interest was fresh whether it was physical or about some mutual subject.

• I quit two high-paying jobs that had real potential to take me to greater heights of accomplishment and high status.

• I used money foolishly to attract people.

• I abused alcohol passionately.

After sobriety, diagnosis, and treatment:

• I just celebrated 13 years of sobriety. I have learned in that time to find peace and serenity by living day-to-day and concentrating on the present.

• I live frugally on disability and am quite happy with it. The money I have is little, and I don’t begrudge my desires for small luxuries like ice cream or a new shirt off eBay.

• While I don’t presently work because of my disability, I serve on the board of directors of a small theater group and am intimately active in it. I act, direct, and manage productions. I am a stalwart member of the group.

• I have great relationships with my children from my marriage that I thought would make me straight. I even have a really good relationship with my ex-wife. I have true friends I can turn to in times of need.

• I no longer hate my homosexuality. I embrace it. I’m fabulous. I am a proud, out gay man, and I take part in activities that support equality in my community and my country.

• I don’t have suicidal ideation today. I was hospitalized for it recently, and that was during a mixed episode of severe mania. I went to the hospital voluntarily to stabilize my medications.

I am lucky. I have never doubted my mental illness. When I was diagnosed in 2001, it was something of a relief to me. I finally had a name for the pain that I was feeling, and I knew there was treatment for it. I began to take the medication right away and have never faltered.

I also believe wholeheartedly in talk therapy. I’ve been seeing the same therapist since 1997. She knows me inside and out and can quickly point out where I need work. She makes me do the work, too. She sugarcoats nothing.

My life continues to improve day by day. I’m happy to be here today, and regular readers of this blog know that’s another milestone.

Mania 2

I’m manic. I’m typing very slowly, because I’m rather heavily sedated. I say rather, because I’m more sedated than I like. I took my morning medication and added the dose of Klonopin that I usually skip since it makes me feel drowsy, woozy, and zombie-like. I wrote about mania here in my entry entitled “Whee!” It’s a good description of what it’s like to be manic. I can’t write like that today, not with this combination of medication roiling my brain.

I’ve been manic now for weeks and reeling. I’ve spent money best saved to pay medical bills from staying in the hospital during the holidays for an abscessed tooth. Those bills are enormous for someone on a limited income. The spending isn’t really the issue for me. It’s the emotions attached to it. There’s a drive. The need to possess is fiery. (I’ve written about my brain being on fire here, too. I think the entry was titled “Brain on Fire” simply enough.) I remember when I was newly diagnosed I thought I needed a new sofa pillow. I went to the store for one and came home with about 20 or 30. Thankfully, I returned them all at the time.

I attended a very nice craft fair yesterday overflowing with local products and many pretty things. I wanted all the pretties. So many shiny objects called to me from their tables. I succumbed once. I bought a beautiful necklace with a leaf encased in gold. On leaving the booth, I turned to the lady, a complete stranger, and told her I loved her. I said it meaningfully. I professed my love to a stranger, and it startled me a bit.

Walking away, I realized that not only could I not control my spending, but my words were beyond me, too. My voice uttered anything the tongue thought necessary.

Once home, I knew I needed medication. I thought of hospitalization. The idea of taking all my pills flashed through my mind with the words, “What’s the use?”

My next thought was that I couldn’t kill myself, because I had too many pretty clothes to wear.

Saved by a gay gene. Ha!

I took the right doses of my medication last night, and I’ve done that this morning. It’s a sunny day today. I believe I’ll put on some nice clothes and go read in the park. I’m lying. I won’t go to the park, but it sounds nice. I will put on nice clothes, but I’ll stay home. With my sedated head, I don’t trust my driving. Perhaps I’ll sit in the sunny yard. That sounds like a goal that can be accomplished. It sounds attainable.

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.

Ending the death wish

It’s impossible to say when it began, but I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be dead. I called it different things at different times: not wanting to be here, wanting to disappear, wanting to be invisible, wanting to fly far away, and simply a death wish. There are many reasons for this desire for self-destruction. Chief among them is being gay.

Growing up in a rabidly fundamentalist, evangelical Christian family, I had to endure hours of church each week. Many of the sermons centered around sin and how unworthy we all were, and that we were all hell bound just for being born. Being alive meant that we were doomed to an eternity of damnation and pain.

There was a special place in hell reserved for homosexuals, and it was the worst possible spot. Life for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered individuals was rife with torment, and there was to be no respite in the afterlife. We were subhuman and deserving of ridicule and hate. Why should anyone be nice to us? We’re a plague on society’s morals, after all. We should simply kill ourselves and go to the hell where we belong.

I grew up thinking that. The self-loathing instilled in me is deep. It wants to harm me, and it makes me miserable.

I have recently gone through a period of dangerous, self-destructive behavior, and the simple explanation is that I want to be dead. When I look that desire in the face, I see a self-hatred that wants not just to die but also to suffer and waste away.

I am angry at myself for feeling this way. I am angry at the preachers I grew up hearing who railed against the sin of homosexuality. I am angry at a society that relegates me to second-class status.

I am angry at my parents who told me that I would be cast out of the house if I was gay.

I am sick and tired of wanting to die. I am done with believing that I deserve to suffer and die. I reject the self-hate implanted in me when I was too young to know any better.

As I’ve written before, I’m a recovered alcoholic, and I chose to work the 12 steps on this problem. I recognized it to begin with. I talked to another alcoholic about it and recognized my part in my self-destructive behavior. What may be most important, I got on my knees, told my higher power I was entirely willing to be free of my death wish, and asked for it to be removed.

I don’t know if it’s gone completely, but I have felt calmer the past several days after doing that. I have not engaged in risky behavior, and I don’t have immediate plans to do it again. Only time will tell if there has been a real change.

I’m simply tired of wanting to die. I’ve known for a long time that I have to rid myself of this torture. I want to live. I want to breathe. I want to eat. I want to play. I want to lose myself in the pages of a good book. I want to feel the ocean on my skin. I want to know what it feels like to love myself.

Fright

Last Saturday evening, I found myself pacing in my room. Next, my thoughts were racing, careening out of control. They were dominated by doom and gloom and worst-case scenarios, all flashing before my eyes. “Would this person be okay in their present predicament? Would that person die unexpectedly?” Then the uncontrollable crying started along with the thoughts that I have worked so hard to get rid of. The negative self-talk. The self-loathing. The hatred directed at me.

My heart raced. My breathing was shallow and ineffective.

All this angst culminated in a certainty that I was simply going completely insane, and thoughts of suicide were present. I wondered if I could drive myself to the emergency room at the hospital. Would I be okay behind the wheel of a car at that point? I was sure I was losing my mind.

“A panic attack” flashed across my mind. “I’m having a panic attack.” While this thought didn’t calm me, it gave me something to hold on to. It also gave me a way out. I knew what to do. I did a very quick guided visualization exercise that I use as meditation and gained a moment of quiet, which I used to walk to the bathroom for the medicine my doctor has given me for just such emergencies. I took one and went back to my room to wait.

I told my therapist about it today, and she was quite dismayed to hear the news. She said something I hadn’t thought of. She said, “You’re having to work too hard to feel good.” Having someone I trust explicitly means so much. Relief washed over me with those words. Someone else saw my hurt and acknowledged it. I didn’t feel judged or wrong in any way. I’m so lucky to have people in my life I can turn to at times like these.

I see my psychiatrist tomorrow, and I will tell him about the incident as well. Keeping all my caregivers up-to-date with all my symptoms is an important part of staying as healthy as I possibly can.

Hitting the Wall of Depression

At the edge

To jump or not to jump

I am not ashamed to say that I spent today in bed. I’m depressed.

I tried my little releasing ritual, but there was no magic bullet there. Still, if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years of having this disease, it is that this too shall pass. I will feel better. Who knows maybe tomorrow I’ll wake up right as rain.

I feel alone. I feel worthless. I feel ashamed of my sexuality, and this after 11 years out of the closet. I feel ashamed of how I use my sexuality.

I’m tired. I’m sick of fighting. I’ve got layers of internalized self-loathing that are only beginning to surface.

I’ve stopped walking. I’ve stopped meditating. I say only the most rudimentary prayers.

Ugh. I can feel myself sliding into the pit, and I refuse to go easily. If I’m going to be depressed, then people are going to know about it.

I can tell you exactly when this started. It began with the comments of a friend on a social web site. I’m gay, and this friend posted a link to an ex-gay therapy group. The whole idea of ex-gay therapy has been widely discredited, but the post sent me into a tailspin of old tapes playing from my childhood about abhorrent homosexuals. The problem is that I can’t shake them. This time, they’re playing repeatedly. They make me feel worthless and actually sub-human.

I’m so sick of homophobia I could vomit. I’m sick of hating myself.

So, do I jump in the lake and revel, or do I jump and drown?

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.